Climate anxiety is here to stay

Olga Steblyk / Sputnik Photography

It’s not hard to develop a doomsday mentality in today’s world. Every day, when you turn on the news, all you see is how the world is literally on fire. Whether it be the recent floods in Ottawa, wildfires in Hawaii or devastating heatwaves across Europe, the climate crisis is on full display in every corner of the globe.  

Climate anxiety is defined as the “heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system,” which can present as feelings of dread, loss, anger, guilt, sadness and existential dread. 

Climate anxiety is a completely valid and justified feeling to the climate crisis. The climate crisis has serious implications on our future as young people and all other future generations. 

The consequences of the climate crisis affects the lives of billions across the globe, perhaps even all life on Earth. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, over one billion people globally could be displaced by climate change related events such as natural disasters and shortages. Climate change has even been proven to be an aggravating contributor of increased rates of violence against women, according to studies by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Climate anxiety will continue to be ever present in our lives as we reach the precipice of climate disaster. Younger generations will bear the burden of climate change, yet we have little power to mitigate the immediate harm. It is no wonder that according to a recent study more than 59 per cent of youth were very or extremely worried about climate change.  

Completely disengaging with the world around us would be much easier than facing the grim reality. However, instead of completely succumbing to the doom and gloom, figuring out ways to channel that anxiety is key to living with climate anxiety.  

A mindfulness and acceptance approach could be helpful in combatting climate anxiety. Knowing your limits of media consumption and having a smart media diet is important to managing climate anxiety.  

As professor Sarah Lowe from Yale School of Public Health said, “Not acceptance that you shouldn’t do anything about climate change, but rather to recognize that someone is feeling anxious about climate change and to help them harness that anxiety for something good.” 

Collective action is that something good that could be the key to combatting your climate anxiety. Doing small things in isolation of others, such as recycling or reducing water consumption, can feel tedious.  

How do we know our actions are actually making a difference? 

If I am the only one trying to do my part, it’s all pointless, right?  

Collective action allows us to connect to others who have similar values while witnessing our impact being made. Through collective action, the anxiety can be harnessed to create long-term change through protests, policy and networking.  

There is no denying the climate crisis is here to stay and our anxiety will be ever-present. It is what we choose to do with that anxiety that could truly make a difference.

This article was originally published in print Volume 23, Issue 1 on Thursday, Aug. 31.

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