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The rise in climate anxiety: Expert tips on how to beat it

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 10 February 2022 09:19 GMT

Fridays for Future activists paint over the Oberbaum Bridge during a protest calling for a "Global Day of Climate Action", as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Christian Mang

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Young people are most at risk in a growing climate mental health crisis. What's the best way to tackle anxiety about the planet?

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Global warming is not just bringing rising sea levels and extreme weather events but also a growing tide of climate fear and anxiety around the world.

From heat-linked suicides in Mexico and the United States to the young adults who fear the future is too uncertain to have children, campaigners and health experts have warned that action is needed to tackle a hidden climate mental health crisis.

Young people appear to be particularly badly impacted: a large international study last year found nearly six in 10 were very worried about climate change, while children are more likely to see it as a crisis than older generations.

So what can you do if you are struggling with eco-anxiety? The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked mental health experts and prominent climate campaigners to share their tips on tackling climate fears and building resilience.

Here's what they said:

"The best cure ... for climate anxiety is action, because as soon as you start to act, bit by bit, the crisis starts to feel less like an apocalypse and more like something we can still solve.

"I'm still scared every day, but every day I choose to act - and that is the only thing I've found that helps."

Phoebe L. Hanson, British climate activist

"Talk about it. The #1 emotional experience I have had reported through my years of climate work is alienation. The feeling that 'no one understands' how bad it is.

"Talking to friends and family, talking to climate activists, talking to a therapist ... it's all good. You might be surprised how receptive people are, and that they have been struggling with similar things."

Margaret Klein Salamon, psychologist and founder of Climate Awakening

Climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti, 26, from Kenya poses for a photo during the Youth4Climate pre-COP26 conference in Milan, Italy, September 28, 2021. "One of my hopes and expectations from COP26 is that we will begin to see more action and less of promises", Wathuti said. Picture taken September 28, 2021. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

"Reconnect with your love for nature. Remember the feelings that came before the pain and the anxiety - your love for this earth; your love for nature. Remember there is still so much beauty to protect and fight for.

"Let your love fuel that action."

Elizabeth Wathuti, Kenyan climate activist and founder of the Green Generation Initiative

"Don't try and ignore or dismiss what may seem like 'negative' feelings, befriend them instead.

"Fear, despair and anger are all entirely legitimate emotional responses to what the science tells us ... Such feelings simply show you are a well-functioning person who understands the scale and impact of the challenges.

"You don't need to feel bad about feeling bad."

Esther Maughan McLachlan, oversight lead of The Resilience Project

"Take a stand. Don't be put off by people who tell you there's no point in individual actions, or in changing consumer habits.

"It is better for your mental health to live according to your personal ethics, and it's also possible to pressure companies to change if enough of us make better choices.

Anouchka Grose, psychoanalyst and author of "A Guide to Eco-Anxiety"

Climate activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan participates during a protest outside the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) venue, in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 12, 2021. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

"Remember that there is something that we can do about it; that through collective action we can change the world and we're not alone in fighting against the climate crisis.

"When you remember that, it takes off the pressure and the fear that you're facing things alone and it gives you a community to hold onto.

"This ... is so important because this is the community that will hold you, be sad with you, grieve with you, comfort you, and be afraid with you, but also fight alongside you."

Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Filipino climate justice activist

"Practise self-care. There is a large amount of burnout in climate work. Let go of the myth of perfection and look after yourself by taking a temporary media blackout when needed, exercising, and practising good sleep hygiene.

"Avoid doom scrolling – balance difficult and negative information with positive climate stories and actions."

Patrick Kennedy-Williams, co-director of Climate Psychologists

"Remember that small is beautiful. And what is essential is to create a space of well-being and tolerance to keep up the collective work.

"Yoga, swimming, reading fantasy and taking time with friends are some of the things that keep me going!"

Nathan Metenier, climate activist and member of the U.N. youth advisory group on climate change

"Team up with others. Many of us feel like the responsibility of tackling climate change is all on our shoulders to fix. Once we let go of that expectation, we realise how powerful we can be in communities.

"If you are part of a choir, you only have to sing a few notes, and then you get to rest and trust that the melody still goes on."

LaUra Schmidt, founding director of the Good Grief Network

Related stories:

As climate anxiety rises, chat groups tackle isolation and taboos

How climate inaction is driving a mental health crisis in children

OPINION: Let's show our children we can do more than talk on climate change

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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