N MULLER, N KING
Chennai: Shrinking ice caps, disappearing biodiversity, fiercer bushfires, heat waves and flash floods. The effects of climate change are difficult to ignore. These disasters not only cause immense physical destruction. A growing body of evidence shows they’re also taking a toll on our mental health.
Researchers say eco-anxiety is rising, especially among members of younger generations who report feeling distressed and overwhelmed by the state of the environment. In a major study of young people aged 16 to 25 published in The Lancet last year, 75% said the “future is frightening” and more than half said “humanity is doomed.” Of the 10,000 respondents across 10 countries, 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their ability to function in daily life. Eco-anxiety, or climate anxiety, covers a range of responses to climate change, from fear about the future, to shame and guilt over consumption, to anger and grief over what has and will be lost.
So if you find yourself grappling with these feelings, what should you do? In the Lancet study, more than 50% of young people reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty about climate change.
Liz Marks, co-lead author of the study and a senior lecturer in psychology at the UK’s University of Bath, said a first step in dealing with these emotions is to acknowledge that they are a natural and healthy response to an existential threat. “When talking about eco-anxiety, it’s important not to pathologise it,” she said. “It isn’t something we need to cure or get rid of. It’s more about how we can live with it so it doesn’t overwhelm us.”
As per Marks, that means “giving ourselves and other people space to feel what we’re feeling, whether that be grief or anger or fear or anxiety, and also recognising that these feelings will come and go. Even in the worst moments of feeling very overwhelmed, emotions are things that change.” She also says although they are stressful, these feelings can be “a really beautiful part of your humanity,” and a positive sign that someone is engaged and cares deeply about the planet, other species and people around the world.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the climate crisis, it can help to seek out communities in real life or on social media and share your thoughts with like-minded people, said climate coaching psychologist Megan Kennedy-Woodard. “It is really wonderful because there are these communities where people can see: ‘actually so much is happening here. I don’t feel like this is all on my shoulders,’ or ‘this person is talking about grief and I was feeling it today, and it’s normal and it’s OK that I’m feeling that’,” said Kennedy-Woodard, who is also co-director of the group Climate Psychologists.
An array of groups offering support to people struggling with eco-anxiety have popped up around the world in recent years. There are climate cafes, for example, or NGOs such as the Good Grief Network, which has a 10-step program that, according to its website, aims to “metabolise collective grief, eco-anxiety, and other heavy emotions” to help people build resilience. If you’re someone engaged with environmental issues, your social media feeds might be full of them. Liz Marks says it’s important to prioritise your well-being and take a break from media that causes distress. “This isn’t about pushing it away completely,” she said. “You might want to remain informed, but perhaps it’s about reducing the frequency and amount of time you spend reading about the climate crisis and trying to choose reliable information sources that aren’t going to cause a huge spike in anxiety.”
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle