By Dakota Fidram, MS
Is Climate Change Anxiety a Real Thing?
It’s hard to read through the daily news cycle without crashing into article upon article foretelling an environmental doom that awaits our planet. Just over the past couple years several organizations, from the United Nations to the U.S Government, have reported dire warnings for the Earth’s ecosystem and climate. These reports seem to continuously share graver prognoses for the planet. What started as an issue to address by 2070 became a crisis to manage before 2040, which then seems to have evolved into a catastrophe we only have 18 months to address before devastating consequences are guaranteed. It feels like the world is burning down and those in power have relinquished all duty and responsibility to act.
Feelings of Grief and Helplessness
This is all existentially overwhelming. While we continue to hear the news of the Amazon Forest burning down, entire island countries sinking into the sea, and the mass extinctions of species, we feel so helpless and powerless in face of this apocalyptic scenario. What can I, as this limited individual with few resources, do to make a difference, we ask ourselves? Faced with all these problems and the seeming futility of our own power to counteract them, we may begin to slip into a state of mind known as learned helplessness. This phenomenon was identified by psychologists who noticed that when faced with an inescapable “aversive stimulus,” the tendency can be to feel an absolute loss of control and to give up entirely. The similarly inescapable anxiety of climate change haunts us incessantly. We may question the point of even trying. The incongruence of a seemingly inescapable doom with the responsibilities of day-to-day living can present us with a complete existential crisis. We may ask ourselves, “What does it matter to graduate from university, or to seek out my dream career, or to save for retirement, if it’s all going to fall apart regardless? What’s my incentive? What’s the hope?” We can feel paralyzed in this state of limbo between hopelessness and hopefulness. In a similar vein, we may be experiencing grief. Losing a loved one isn’t the only precursor to mourning and grieving; in reality, grief is known to be a normal response to losing a dream or imagined future. The suffocating uncertainty of climate change may be robbing us of our future aspirations and goals.
You’re Not Alone
Climate anxiety is real, and you’re not alone in experiencing it. Many others have expressed their worries and doubts about the future. No one is necessarily immune to it. In fact, among scientific circles, it’s becoming a more frequently discussed fact. Many climate scientists find themselves so demoralized by the tsunami of warning signals and our government’s seeming abdication of duty in addressing them that they sometimes leave the field entirely for the sake of their own mental health. However, for certain individuals the psychological effects of climate anxiety can cause even greater damage. People of compromised or limited resources may be most at risk from climate anxiety since they stand to weather the changes more intensely. The poor, the elderly, children, and those already dealing with mental illness might feel the most threatened.
All Is Not Lost
So where do you go from here? It’s important to remember that though things may feel helpless that does not necessarily mean they are helpless. A common phrase in therapy is often, “You don’t need to believe everything you think.” It’s normal to have irrational thoughts and to illogically focus on certain factors. But, in truth, there are a considerable number of voices, in the news and official circles, that remind us that all is not lost. Though climate change might represent one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever encountered, it’s definitely not the only major, civilization-threatening crisis the world has experienced. The Cold War, WWI & 2, The Black Plague, etc. are all major calamities and crises that humanity has surmounted. Although they might have changed history and society forever, life continued on. Of course, it doesn’t mean that fears are unfounded or that we shouldn’t still act swiftly and seriously.
The Power of Reality Checking
This is a situation where reality checking can be an effective exercise. In essence, the goal is to recognize that the normal way we focus on irrational thoughts can lead to a confirmation bias and a circular thinking feedback loop. Sure, it’s a reality that climate change is a frightening prospect, but that doesn’t mean everything is doomed at this very moment. If we already give up before the worst happens, then we shoot ourselves in the foot before we even make a step. Remind yourself that the world is still alive and spinning at this moment. You’re safe and alive right now. This sort of self-affirmation can help to get through the days and weeks. Make a point to actually celebrate the small wins you can make in your life. Recycling those bottles, eating less meat, switching lights and devices off that you’re not using, taking public transportation, etc. All of these might seem small but when added together, particularly with many others in society, they can start a wave of change. It can feel easier to say, “well it’s still not going to be enough.” But it might help to question how that line of thinking is helping you. Is it getting you where you want to be? Does it serve to help the issue that’s plaguing you? There can be a lot of power in intentionality, or the degree to which we believe in and act upon the change we want to make happen.
Let Us Help
All the uncertainties and anxiety of Climate Change can be severely draining. If you find yourself struggling with these worries in your own life, just know that speaking with another individual about those thoughts and feelings can be a major relief. Therapists at True You Southeast are prepared to help you navigate these uncertain times. Don’t hesitate to contact us at 404-800-7586 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.