Today, Dr. Patrick Kennedy-Williams discussed the impact of ‘Eco-Anxiety’, also known as ‘Climate Anxiety’ and anxiety surrounding Global Warming. He talks about the impact this has, and when normal worry develops into more significant psychological distress.
What is Eco-anxiety?
Eco-anxiety (sometimes called Climate Anxiety) has been described by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. Eco-anxiety is part of the wider phenomena relating to how climate change impacts on mental health.
Of course, is very normal to worry about the planet. We want to be sure we are in no way pathologising people’s legitimate worries.
However, Eco-anxiety becomes a problem when worries can interfere with our daily lives. It can affect sleep, lead to panic attacks and create a sense of helplessness. These can significantly impact on people’s well-being. It’s important to identify when these then lead to behavioural change - either avoidance of engaging with climate change, or apathy - a sense that our actions won’t make a difference. At an individual level this is a real concern, but at a wider level, we need to help people overcome inaction, to make sure we are working towards meaningful change.
Since it’s a fairly new problem, we can’t say with any certainty as to the prevalence of eco-anxiety. However, many psychologists and therapists are noting an increase in people seeking help for eco-anxiety or experiencing climate-related difficulties, which is leading us to highlight eco-anxiety as a specific problem.
How can we help Eco-anxiety?
The first thing to say is that you are not alone, and it is a very normal fear to have. Also, its really important to hold in mind that there are things we can do, both individually and collectively. And small actions can be the catalyst for wider change. Helping people set and achieve realistic climate goals, and supporting them to overcome the psychological barriers to those.
Help might involve supporting a combination of problem-focused coping (I.e. engaging in practical strategies to help do your small part) and emotion-focused coping (managing the emotional impact, hopelessness and anxiety, that can prevent people from taking positive action). Other easy-wins in your immediate environment might be how you travel, who you bank with, choosing green a energy supplier, and so forth.
Also, stay connected. Share your concerns and involve yourself in the wider community as much as possible.
Finally, prevention is better than cure. Young people are being exposed to discussions about the climate at a younger age, which is important. Helping parents, for example, to model positive action and hope to their children, and avoid inadvertently reinforcing a sense of helplessness by avoiding to engage in climate conversations.
Principally, once a child has some sense of understanding of an issue, and what they can do about it, they often become much more engaged and empowered to act. In some ways, this can be a gift that our generation can bestow on our children, is their belief that they can make a difference.
Get in touch if you need some support;
Overcoming the feeling that it’s too big and you can’t make a difference
Keeping focussed on solutions
Processing thoughts and ideas around climate change that are negatively impacting upon you
If you’re a parent and want to help your child manage climate anxiety
Taking action (small and large) to affect climate change
We work with Megan Kennedy Coaching on this project.