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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / March 2020 / Coping With Climate Change Anxiety

Coping With Climate Change Anxiety

By: Jennifer Mooney, LMHC

As media reports about climate change increase, do you find yourself worrying about your future, the future of your children, and the future of our planet as we know it? Do you experience feelings of despair, grief, hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, fear, guilt, and impending doom due to your awareness of this global problem?

Several terms have emerged to describe these mental health concerns of climate change. "Eco-anxiety" refers to anxiety resulting from awareness and exposure to the effects of climate change and the associated worry about the future. "Eco-paralysis" refers to the inability to take effective action because the emotional distress is so great that certain psychological defense mechanisms (e.g. denial) become activated. "Solastalgia" (a combination of solace and nostalgia) is a term to describe feelings of sorrow and loss associated with the destruction of one’s home environment or cherished landscapes.

Too much emphasis on "doom and gloom" can backfire and perpetuate anxiety and paralysis. However too much emphasis on optimism can be unsettling for those who are deeply aware of the seriousness of the problem. In an effort to find a balance, some concepts introduced for addressing the mental health impacts of climate change include "active hope" and "tragic hope". "Active hope" occurs when the reality and magnitude of the situation are recognized, and actions take place to address the problem. "Tragic hope" refers to "hope in the midst of tragedy". It aims to communicate that humanity can have an impact on the amount of damage that occurs in the future while also acknowledging past and future losses.

Here are some tips for individuals to put these concepts into practice:

  • Build belief in your own resilience. A sense of self-efficacy means that you have confidence in your own ability to make changes and overcome sources of stress.
  • Foster optimism. Learn how to reframe your thoughts in order to find something positive in your circumstances and increase your experience of positive emotions.
  • Find a source of personal meaning. Participation in a faith community or a spiritual practice can provide comfort and a sense of peace during difficult times.
  • Model climate solutions. Implement your own practices for reducing consumption, reducing waste, changing to renewable energy, and other lifestyle changes.
  • Create household emergency plans including kits. Be prepared for the possibility of more frequent severe weather events. Include medications and comfort items in your emergency kits to tend to your mental health such as pictures, books, games, favorite foods, and spiritual or religious objects.
  • Connect with others. Talk to others who are experiencing similar feelings about climate change to receive support and feel a sense of connection. Join existing community groups or start your own.
  • Support solutions. Donate time or money to programs that are already in place to increase public awareness and implement change.

Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Our team of mental health professionals can accurately assess your symptoms and make recommendations for treatment. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.

References

Clayton, S., Manning, C. M., Krygsman K., & Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.

Hayes, K., Blashki, G., Wiseman, J., Burke, S., & Reifels, L. (2018). Climate change and mental health: risks, impacts and priority actions. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 12(28). (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Pihkala, P. (2018). Eco-anxiety, tragedy, and hope: Psychological and spiritual dimensions of climate change. Zygon, 53(2), 545-569.

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health

Keith Stein | 3/1/2020

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