When most people think of anxiety, they don’t often think of their fears regarding the environment to be the cause. However, many psychotherapists are chiming in on the reality that many people are beginning to show signs of stress, fear, and anxiety regarding their thoughts of climate change and how it might impact them or their families.
Recently, the American Psychological Association shared a report on “climate change anxiety disorder” that shed a very real light on how people are beginning to let their fears of climate change get the best of them. The report analyzed how people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after natural disasters that leave individuals with major personal injuries or damaged property, or worse…the death of loved ones. “Terror, anger, shock and other intense negative emotions that can dominate people’s initial response may eventually subside, only to be replaced by overwhelming post-traumatic stress disorder which often leads to suicide.” The report then provides the impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which led to a double rate of suicide and over 49% of residents with anxiety or depression. To further show the severity and seriousness of eco-anxiety, Time Magazine did a report that showed mental health studies from Greenland to Australia which “revealed a surge in people reporting stress or depression about the climate.”
Although eco-anxiety is not considered a medical condition by medical experts, they still conclude that it has the ability to worsen current mental health problems in which a person might suffer. Fear about the climate and the future of the environment has the capacity to alter the emotion and mental stability of those who truly fear that the climate will bring forth impending doom if global warming is not solved somehow. For this reason, many experts believe that those who suffer from eco-anxiety should take the condition very seriously.
When asked why most individuals would fear environmental instability so much that it affects their mental wellbeing, it was suggested that a lack of personal control might be the culprit. Caroline Hickman, a clinical psychotherapist who works with those suffering from eco-anxiety, stated that “uncertainty is intolerable for human beings because we feel out of control.” She suggests that often times people rely on “apocalyptic thinking” when they can’t control what’s going on in their environment as it pertains to the climate. In such cases, Hickman tries to help her clients first admit their fears and then discuss how they might attempt to solve them.
Many individuals are more than likely uncertain of their emotions and how those emotions are connected to the world around them. They may be unaware of the fact that the fear that they feel is associated with their feelings about climate change. Feelings of insecurity, fear, and uncertainty are all main ingredients to eco-anxiety, especially for those who have experienced environmental disasters. It makes perfect sense that someone might feel the same post-traumatic stress after a devastating earthquake that someone might feel after a major car accident. To make matters worse, a person would feel a lack of control knowing that their environment could bring forth another devastation at any given time. Additionally, the American Psychological Association reports that mental health impacts can occur from longer term climate change. “Changes in the climate affecting agriculture, infrastructure and livability, which in turn affect occupations and quality of life may lead to feelings of helplessness, fear and fatalism.” The report further explained how these emotions of dispair might lead to substance abuse and other forms of escape.
If you find that you suffer from eco-anxiety, then you might be relieved to know that there is a solution of hope. Many experts believe that after admitting that this is a disorder in which one suffers, a person might then find solace in being proactive. It is suggested that one joins climate change organizations and become activists in helping to solve the problem. By doing this, a person would place themselves in more control and help to alleviate the pressure of feeling helpless. According to Hickman, becoming active with a group can drastically help in the reduction of anxious feelings.