What to Do About Climate Change Anxiety, According to Mental Health Experts

Updated 09/03/19

 Stocksy

After watching wildfires tear through California (and various news articles discuss the sorry state of the polar ice caps and exactly how long we have left before earth becomes uninhabitable), one thing is clear: Climate change is real, and it’s terrifying. 

Between the impossible-to-ignore science and the fact that our president doesn’t believe in climate change and has rolled back environmental regulations since taking office, anxiety around this topic is high. According to a 2018 survey conducted by Yale University, 70% of Americans are worried about climate change, and 51% said they feel “helpless.” If you need proof, look no further than pop culture. The hit HBO series “Big Little Lies” had a storyline in which one student was sent home with a climate change-induced panic attack.

Faced with so much terrifying information about the future of our planet, it can be hard to know exactly how to manage anxiety around climate change without checking out of the conversation entirely. That’s why we asked the experts for their tips. Keep scrolling for their advice on how to deal with climate change anxiety.

Take control over how you consume climate change news. 

Liberate yourself from those anxious feelings by limiting your intake of climate change related events. You don’t have to consume every single piece of climate change news to stay informed. So turn off the TV, close out of your Twitter feed, back away from the Facebook clickbait, and make a decision about what type of news you want to consume on climate change, and how much of it. 

“Even though it’s important as a concerned citizen to stay educated and informed, there is no need to check in for the latest updates relentlessly,” says Shira Myrow, LMFT. “This can spike your anxiety, or conversely, you may start to shut down because the constant news can desensitize you over time. Neither are helpful.”

So pick a few trusted sources, and limit how much news you consume and when you consume it. “Reading the news late at night before bed may make it very difficult to sleep, for example, so try doing it in the morning instead,” suggests Myrow. 

Remember that action is an excellent antidote to anxiety.

While you may not be able to hop on a plane to Antarctica and physically stop the polar ice caps from melting, you can make changes to your day-to-day routine that help the planet, such as eating less meat, commuting via bike or public transportation, and composting your food scraps. And as a nice bonus, doing so will probably help your anxiety quite a bit. 

“Taking action in any situation can be useful in counteracting anxiety because it helps us feel less stuck and helpless,” says Alison Stone, LCSW. “Action can be independent and personal, like making your own smarter choices about waste, or leveraged into movement, such as getting involved in rallies, attending town hall meetings, calling your representative to make your voice heard, or joining a local activist group. All of these actions might assist you in feeling more in control of your anxiety because momentum of any kind is the opposite of feeling stuck.”

Interestingly, Stone also notes that while traditional anxiety management techniques like journaling, meditation, and seeking therapy are all wonderful tools, they probably won’t do much to address specific climate change-related worries. “Remember that emotions are information, so if you are noticing anxiety around climate change, it’s for a good reason,” she says. “Try to channel that into productive action.”

According to Myrow, anxiety around climate change is very specific because it taps into the biological function that is our survival instincts: If the planet doesn’t survive, we won’t either. And if you’re feeling paralyzed by that thought, she believes mindfulness techniques can help us channel this anxiety into productive action. “Mindfulness practice can help you bring some compassionate awareness and attention to your anxiety in the present moment,” she explains. “It can also help you can detach from an unhelpful sense of worry and leverage your anxiety into generative action.”

Should you talk to a mental health professional if you’re struggling with debilitating anxiety around climate change? Yes, absolutely. But in the specific case of worrying about the future of our planet, one thing is clear: Taking action is probably the best treatment method you’ll be able to find. 

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