understanding anxiety about climate change

‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘climate anxiety’

With lots of discussion about climate change and a growing awareness that it’s a serious issue, you might be concerned about what all this means for the future.

Many young people are worried about climate change and its effects on the planet, the community and their lives.

If you’re feeling stressed about climate change, there are things you can do to help you cope, people you can turn to for support, and ways you can contribute to help the environment.

What is ‘climate anxiety’/ ‘eco anxiety’?

‘Climate anxiety’ and ‘eco-anxiety’ are terms being used to describe feelings of anxiety, helplessness, stress, worry and frustration about the effects of climate change. There is growing research in this area to understand how concerns about climate change can significantly interfere with some people’s daily lives.

Concerns might include feeling:

  • hopeless or overwhelmed about the future
  • helpless there’s nothing that can be done
  • guilt about not doing enough to make a difference
  • worried about the future
  • frustrated and/or angry that not enough is being done.

These are normal responses to a serious problem, but for some people they can be hard to manage and can impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

So what can you do?

You might feel like there’s nothing you can do to make a difference, but every little bit helps.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, taking action can help you feel more in control and help things seem more manageable. It also has the added bonus of helping you live a more environmentally friendly life.

There are many things you can do – you're probably doing some of these already. You could:

  • take your own bags to the shops
  • use public transport, ride a bike, walk or car-pool
  • eat more sustainably (e.g., eat less meat)
  • learn whether companies you support are helping or hindering the environment (e.g., discover if your bank or super fund invest in fossil fuels)
  • be mindful about the products you use, where they come from and where they are going after you use them (e.g., shop local and seasonally or buy second-hand)
  • stay connected to the good news. There are many dedicated people working on the issue of climate change. Focusing on the positives can help give your head a break and give you some hope.  

You can also get involved, get your voice heard, or find people who share your beliefs and values.

  • talk to your friends, family or community and see if there’s something you can do together. Check out The David Suzuki Foundation’s guide on how to have conversations about climate change
  • contact your local government agency and see what they’re doing
  • volunteer at an environmental organisation or join a community group
  • find out what your workplace, uni, school or TAFE are doing for the environment
  • write to your local politician and ask them to take action. Climate for Change has some great templates you can use.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has put together a handy guide on how to go about getting involved.

And remember to celebrate your wins both big and small!

On the flip side, it’s also a good idea to take a break from thinking about climate change. This doesn’t mean ignoring the issue; it’s a good way to help prevent feeling overwhelmed. Breaks can help keep you mentally and physically strong so you can keep doing the things that are important to you.

Turn off your news feed and google alerts and do something nice for yourself.

Looking after yourself is important, especially if you’re having a tough time. It’s OK not to feel OK –acknowledge you’re having a difficult time and be kind to yourself.

We all cope with challenges in different ways. It can be helpful to think about how well your current coping strategies work for you.

Learning skills for tough times can help. These are things like understanding your thoughts and feelings and how they can impact on you. When times are tough, you could try journalling, relaxation exercises, listening to music or going for a walk in nature. Being outdoors can also help you develop your own positive relationship with nature.  

Building skills can be hard, but it gets better with practise. Start with something easy, keep an open mind, and find out what works for you.

And don’t forget the basics: keep doing the things you enjoy; connect with your family, friends and your community; get a good night’s sleep; limit your use of alcohol and other drugs; and stay active.

Worries - what can you do about unhelpful thoughts?

Thoughts are a bit like junk mail. You can’t stop them from coming in, but you can choose whether to read them. If you notice you’re having unhelpful thoughts about climate change, try focusing on other things – like your breathing, or the sounds around you. Check out our interactive activity below for more tips.

Letting others know what’s going on might be challenging, but it can help you feel understood, more connected and it can be the beginning of a great support network. Reach out to trusted family members, friends, teachers, Elders or your community and share what’s on your mind.

Having concerns about climate change is normal. However, signs you might need some extra support include withdrawing from family, friends and your usual activities, losing interest in work or study, feeling flat or sad, constant worry about the environment or that you’re not doing enough, changes in sleeping or eating, low motivation, or increases in alcohol and other drug use.

If these last for a period of time, you are experiencing a number of them or you’re worried about how they’re affecting you, it’s a good idea to get some extra support.

Youth support services

Other helpful resources

Group chat – climate anxiety

headspace interactive activities – can help young people reflect on their needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing. 

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed 12 October 2021

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