The obvious negative impact of climate change on our lifestyles, our prospects for the future and political inaction have led not only to environmental deterioration but also to the deterioration of our mental health. This is leading to more and more people reporting feelings of stress or anxiety due to the thoughts of “no future” or “humanity is doomed”.
Eco-anxiety is not formally registered in the DMS-5 (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but there is no denying the evident impact it is having on health, not only physical but also mental, of new generations and communities with fewer resources, and therefore less resilience.
Due to its lack of formal recognition, the true magnitude of the problem has not yet been properly assessed. However, given the recent estimates of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, the poor performance of countries in the Climate Change Performance Index and the fact that the United Nations itself at the New York Climate Summit defined climate change as “the problem of our time”, there is no choice but to talk about it.
What is eco-anxiety?
As mentioned above, eco-anxiety is not formally defined, but was first introduced by Glenn Albrecht (Professor of Sustainability at Murdoch University in Western Australia) as a chronic fear of environmental doom and later reaffirmed by the American Psychological Association in their report on Mental Health and our Changing Climate. In a similar vein, organisations such as the Australian Psychological Society published a Climate Change Empowerment Handbook in which they address the anxiety that many people suffer and name climate change as an extreme stressor.
But this eco-anxiety is not only associated with fear or anxiety per se. More overwhelming and disempowering emotional responses also come into play, such as terror and horror, grief and other feelings of loss such as solastalgia (distress or desolation caused by the gradual removal of solace from the present state of one’s home environment).
Other authors speak of the feelings of guilt and shame, helplessness and powerlessness provoked by environmental injustice causing repetitive moments of denial, disavowal and disbelief. All these emotions and mental states also find refuge in sister terms such as eco-angst and eco-distress, eco-trauma or eco-paralysis.
Despite this blur of terms, in the end they all refer to the obvious link between climate change and mental health.
Is it all negative?
At this point, is it all negative – have we lost all power? No. The fact that we are feeling anger, despair or even anxiety about this environmental degradation is an indicator that we are fully aware that something is wrong. The reason we feel this is explained by the biophilia hypothesis, the idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.
So eco-anxiety could be reframed as eco-empathy, eco-compassion or eco-caring. Tools that can guide us as a community towards eco-action, to turn victimhood into empowerment, collective action and social change.
So, what can you do to cope with eco-anxiety?
- Living in alignment with your values: having your thoughts, life-choices and ideas align with your core values will help your escape from the disempowering feelings eco-anxiety can bring. If protecting the environment is part of those values, adjust your everyday choices to it. Consume fair trade products, work towards zero waste, and encourage others around you to do the same.
- Check your house: In the same way, you can find more sustainable alternatives for your house. There are multitudes of recommendations out there, from no-cost-quick-win tips and tricks to investments that quickly pay back. Check the households energy saving tips we have in our website if you want some ideas.
- Join others with the same concerns: apart from encouraging others around you, you can take it a step further and create or join associations, neighbourhood movements, etc that are aligned with your concerns. You will be able to carry out activities to fight climate change while receiving emotional support from people with the same values as yourself.
- Protect local green spaces: It is not only the protection of the Amazon that matters, but also the protection of green spaces near where you live. These can mitigate regional and local flooding from storms, reduce water scarcity, improve air and water quality, regulate temperature all while sequestering carbon. You can protect them and even propose to create new ones.
- Connect with nature: as mentioned before, humans tend to seek a connection with nature. This can bring us joy, escape from daily problems, calmness… and for sure will encourage us to continue to fight for its protection. Visit nearby parks, go on nature escapades, urban gardening has become a trend, join in!
- Be patient: Dealing with something so global and on so many different scales can be overwhelming. Everyone reacts differently and we all have our own timescales. Give yourself time and give it to others, but don’t give up. Small actions bring great results
- Seek professional help: If after all you feel that it is not enough, and these negative feelings are becoming overwhelming, seek professional help. You can find options online or in person, at different prices. Your mental health comes first.
 Albrecht, Glenn. (2011). Chronic Environmental Change: emerging ‘Psychoterratic’ Syndromes. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9742-5_3
 Australian Psycological Society (2017). The Climate Change Empowerment Handbook. Psycological Strategies to tackle climate change. Link.
 Clayton, S.; Manning, C.M.; Krygsman, K.; Speiser, M. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance; APA & EcoAmerica: Washington, DC, USA, 2017.
 Climate Change Performance Index 2022. Germanwatch, NewClimate Institute and CAN. Link.
 Coffey, Y., Bhullar, N., Durkin, J., Islam, M. S., & Usher, K. (2021). Understanding Eco-anxiety: A Systematic Scoping Review of Current Literature and Identified Knowledge Gaps. The Journal of Climate Change and Health. Link.
 Fromm, E. (1973). The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Henry Holt and Company.
 Goleman, D. (2009). The age of eco-angst. The New York Times. Link.
 Greogry, A. (2021). ‘Eco-anxiety’: fear of environmental doom weighs on young people. The Guardian. Link.
 Hickman, C. (2020). We need to (find a way to) talk about … Eco-anxiety. Journal of Social Work Practice, 34(4), 411-424. Link.
 IPCC (2022). IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.
 Randall, R. (2019). Climate anxiety or climate distress? Coping with the pain of the climate emergency. Link.
 Stanley, S.K., Hogg, T., Leviston, Z., & Walker, I. (2021). From anger to action: Differential impacts of eco-anxiety, eco-depression, and eco-anger on climate action and wellbeing.
 Weintrobe, S. (2013). Engaging with climate change: Psychoanalytic and interdisciplinary perspectives. Routledge.
 Wilson, E.O (1984). Biophilia. Harvard University Press.
 Cartier, K. (2021) Growing Equity in City Green Space. Eos Science News by Agus. Link.