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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
From out-of-control wildfires to tornados and hurricanes, it seems like nearly every day climate scientists are reporting some sort of new natural disaster. And the constant barrage of climate-related issues or thoughts of utter environmental doom can really start to affect one’s mental health. In fact, this type of anxiety has become common enough that there is even a term for it — climate anxiety. Some people also refer to it as eco-anxiety.
In many ways, this is a new-ish form of anxiety, but it can mirror many other types of anxiety and many of the same treatments can be successful.
Learn more about anxiety caused by the climate crisis. Understanding it can help you figure out if you’re dealing with it. Then, read all about ways to address it.
As we mentioned, the constantness of climate-related issues can be a source of great anxiety for some. At the very least, a majority of adults admit climate change is an important issue.
A study done by the American Psychological Association found that 56 percent of adults in the United States say it’s the most important issue facing the world today.
What’s more, 68 percent of participants from this same study said they feel at least a little eco-anxiety. And 48 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 said they experienced climate-related stress in their daily lives, every single day.
Researchers have also compared worsening extreme weather events with worsening mental health. They compared meteorological data with two million Americans over the course of a 10-year period and found that as the weather got worse (think higher temperatures and increasing rainfall), so did mental health.
Climate anxiety is most likely to be experienced by people who care deeply about the environment or those who have experienced climate-related disasters.
Symptoms of this type of climate anxiety can mirror the symptoms of other forms of anxiety. Some of those symptoms could include a racing heart, hyperventilation, general worry, irritability and fatigue.
If you’ve experienced a disaster related to the climate crisis, it’s also possible you may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This anxiety disorder is induced by experiencing something traumatic.
Women actually have a two to three times higher likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than men.
Avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event
Difficulty remembering parts of the traumatic event
It’s also possible that those who deal with eco-anxiety may become really involved in efforts to solve the effects of climate change — they may become a climate activist. Conversely, it’s not unusual for those dealing with this type of anxiety to avoid it completely.
Experts agree that the same modalities used to treat other forms of anxiety can work to calm climate anxiety. Whether you prefer to try and tweak lifestyle habits as a way of lowering your anxiety or are open to medication, there are a number of things you can do.
Repeat after us: sleep is key! Research has even found that poor sleep can lead to anxiety.
To make sure lack of sleep doesn’t contribute to your anxiety, aim for seven hours or more each night. Avoiding caffeine, exercising during the day and keeping to the same wake and sleep times each day can lead to good, healthy sleep.
Sticking to a balanced diet can help anxiety around the climate crisis. Your goal should be to consume plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins.
Limit the amount of simple carbs you consume — ahem, pasta, we’re looking at you. These types of carbs can make blood sugar levels spike and then drop, leading to jitters.
Drinking tons of coffee is not a great idea for a similar (jittery!) reason. See, an excess of caffeine may worsen anxiety symptoms.
A small study completed in 2014 suggested that 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation can reduce overall brain activity and, in doing so, lower your anxiety.
But this small study isn’t the only evidence that meditation can help.
Researchers from John Hopkins reviewed 47 randomized clinical trials and concluded that meditation helps those dealing with stress and anxiety.
There are a number of helpful apps that can guide you through meditations of all different types and lengths.
Sweat that anxiety right out of your system. With just five minutes of getting your heart rate up by exercising, you can start to notice anxiety-reducing benefits. And regularly working out is even better.
Everything from a yoga session to a jog around your neighborhood to a spin class can help.
Talking to someone about the psychological impacts your feelings about climate change have on you can help you work things out. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be particularly effective in the treatment of anxiety.
How it works: You’ll work with a therapist to identify patterns and negative emotions that cause anxiety, and then collaborate on ways to have a healthy response to those anxiety-boosting patterns.
The mental health effects of climate anxiety may call for anxiety medication. This needs to be prescribed by a mental health professional, so you’ll need to schedule a telepsychiatry consultation if you’re interested in the possibility of medication.
Climate anxiety, sometimes called eco-anxiety, is when people experience emotional responses in the form of excessive worry or chronic fear around the impacts of climate change — like natural disasters or weather changes.
As the situation with the climate crisis has gotten worse, so has anxiety. And this type of anxiety has been found to be quite pervasive, with nearly 50 percent of adults in the United States saying they do worry about the climate.
Climate anxiety symptoms can look quite similar to the symptoms of other types of anxiety. For example, someone may experience excessive worry, a heightened heart rate and more.
Thankfully, there are lots of treatments to try. If you deal with eco-anxiety, you can try working out, eating well, sleeping better, therapy or medication — or a combo of these things.
If you would like to talk to someone about navigating your climate anxiety, Hers offers online consultations with mental health providers.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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