A Guide to Coping with Climate Anxiety
By Cora Gold, Editor-in-Chief of Revivalist
Climate change is real, and you can already feel the effects. Storms are growing more severe with each passing year, and heat waves are becoming hotter and lasting longer. It’s natural to feel concerned.
However, some people become panic-stricken to the point where it interferes with everyday life. They might lose sleep, have trouble eating and make irrational life decisions driven by fear rather than reality.
While you want to put time and energy into caring for the environment, you should also take care of yourself. Here’s your guide to understanding climate anxiety, and eight simple coping strategies.
Demystifying Your Feelings
Let’s talk anxiety. What is it? You know it when you feel it.
Everyone feels the occasional flash of fear, but anxiety feels uncontrollable. It can quickly take over your life. Fortunately, you aren’t alone — roughly 31% of all adults experience at least one episode at some point in their lives.
In regard to the state of the planet, 67% of Americans are somewhat or extremely anxious about climate change. While the environment is only one possible cause of anxiety, it is growing more and more concerning to people over time.
Anxiety consists of mental and physical symptoms. It isn’t all in your head. For example, people experiencing a panic attack may have a racing heart, sweating or chills, trembling, weakness, dizziness and chest pain. It feels like you’re going to die.
The trouble might begin in your brain, but anxiety is a physiological phenomenon. Your senses or nerves detect a trigger they associate with danger. Your HPA axis — hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal — kicks into high gear, sending hormonal signals that tell your adrenal glands to release cortisol. This hormone provokes many physical symptoms you associate with panic, such as weak knees and sweaty palms.
Here’s the problem: Your trigger can be internal, especially if you have a trauma history. For example, a passing car may stray too close to your lane, causing your adrenaline to spike momentarily. This hormone is the first of your fight-or-flight duo, but it dissipates quickly. However, it kicks your heart rate up while it remains.
If you’re already anxiety-prone, your body could interpret that momentary racing heartbeat as a signal screaming, “danger.” The result? While some people might drive on relatively unruffled, you experience a panic attack or descend into a ruminative spiral of negative thoughts.
Understanding the physiology of anxiety is important when it comes to coping strategies. You need healthy ways to mitigate your body’s response — more on that in a bit.
Is There Hope to Halt Climate Change in Time?
“That sounds reasonable,” you might respond, “but climate change is a real and valid concern.” Yes, it is — but there are also signs of hope.
For example, America got only one-half of 1% of its electricity from alternative, clean sources in 2001. Today, that figure is 10%. Over a million electric cars cruised the roadways by 2019.
California is currently showing the rest of America how sustainable solutions can work. It recently powered itself 100% by renewable energy — and if it can do it, other states can follow suit.
You need all the price reductions you can find in today’s crazy inflationary times. Fortunately, the cost of solar is anticipated to decrease by 20%. LED lightbulbs used to set you back nearly $40 at the store, but now you can find them for less than $10.
You might not have to worry about drowning in an ocean of plastic waste, either. In 2018, scientists discovered PETase, an enzyme produced by bacteria that breaks down the non-biodegradable stuff. Recently, they found that adding MHETase made the process six times faster. Experts anticipate that the product could be ready for use by recycling centers in a year or two.
Finally, advances in carbon capture technology offer hope. These technologies will work with taxes to ensure nations creating the most emissions clean up their fair share of the mess.
Your Guide to Climate Anxiety Coping Strategies
Conquering climate anxiety requires a multifaceted approach. You must mitigate the physical symptoms contributing to worsening fear while continuing to face danger. It sounds like an impossible task, but you can quell the panic, clear your mind and feel more like your old self again.
The following tips for coping with climate anxiety take a twofold approach. They acknowledge reality while helping you mitigate physical and mental symptoms.
Exercise is perhaps the best way to moderate your cortisol levels naturally. It taps into your innate fight-or-flight response — your body interprets the movement as a threat acknowledgment.
Why not make your workout do double-duty? Instead of driving to work or the store, walk. Electric bikes offer another eco-friendly alternative, and they are a blast to ride. You won’t break a sweat from exertion and you’ll still burn calories.
Perhaps the best way to mitigate climate anxiety is to join forces with others committed to positive change. Use care when choosing your organization. Some can get too bogged down in negative messaging that makes you feel worse.
Such groups often recruit new members through social media, allowing you to get a feel for their overall vibe. Seek those with positive messaging, such as offering tips for what individuals can do and organizing group efforts to target big polluters and governmental bodies.
If you’re artistic, put your pen to paper creating cartoons that illustrate the need for action on climate change. Take photographs of beautiful natural areas to showcase their value to future generations. Write poetry, perhaps even compose some song lyrics and perform your work. Many artists convey messages about the need for climate action in their music, like Billie Eilish and Childish Gambino.
As much as people complain about the political system, relatively few take the actions they could to influence lawmakers. You can contact your senators and representatives via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard or their local offices.
It may seem like petitions don’t do much, but signing them does make a difference, showing the people’s will. You can also write letters to the editor and attend local city council meetings when environmental issues arise in your neighborhood.
Use your wallet to show what you value. Research companies before you buy, opting for those with the best records for taking action on climate change. Boycott those who continue to deny the crisis or employ unsustainable practices.
Do your part to gently educate others about the need to change. Serve as an example, taking your reusable bags to the store and carrying a metal straw in your purse. Explain why you choose to live sustainably if people ask.
A cleaner planet begins at home. Making sustainable choices helps ease your climate anxiety by reassuring you that you are doing what you can. Adjust your thermostat, replace incandescents with LED bulbs, and repurpose and recycle. Consider going vegan, vegetarian or embracing meatless Monday as a flexitarian. Meat production accounts for nearly 15% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
Spend some time in nature enjoying this beautiful planet. Going outdoors has curative properties for your mind and body. Take a hike, rent a canoe for the day or pack your bags for an impromptu camping trip.
Use mindfulness and savor the moment. After all, the past is a memory, and tomorrow isn’t promised. Be in the here and now and simply breathe.
Your Climate Anxiety Coping Guide
Climate change is real, and it’s natural to feel concerned. However, letting your fear paralyze you won’t help the cause.
Instead, follow the simple coping strategies above to manage your climate anxiety. Taking proactive steps is much better than living in fear.
About the Author
Cora Gold has a passion for writing about life, happiness and sustainability. As Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist, she loves to share her insights and find inspiration from others. Follow Cora on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.