The first mental health challenge I will cover this week on the topic of Mental Health and Climate Action is: Eco-Anxiety.

100% of the activists who filled out the survey said that they experienced Eco-Anxiety. This is a stark and worrying discovery.

So, what is this mental health challenge?

Eco-anxiety is a very real mental health challenge that many people don’t realize exists as it isn’t officially recognized as a physical or mental disorder. The definition of eco-anxiety from the climate psychology alliance is: “Eco-anxiety is the most frequently used term in literature and research to describe heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system.” Somatic relating to the physical and the body.

Another definition from is, “If you’re worried about the impacts of climate change, global ecological disaster or a specific extreme weather event, if such worries and fears are either constant or temporarily overwhelming, if they affect your daily life so much that, for example, you have difficulty sleeping, or you have panic attacks, or you’re unable to focus on other important things like your relationships or your schoolwork, then you might be suffering from eco-anxiety. If you worry or feel guilty about the environmental impact of most actions you take, or if your great concern for the environment is matched by a huge sense of helplessness that there’s nothing you can do, and if this tends to immobilise you, that also sounds like eco-anxiety.”

There are many times I have encountered eco-anxiety but the example I will use when I have personally experienced eco-anxiety was when I was watching a documentary in school about climate change a few years ago. I was attacked visually and aurally as I saw and heard devastating facts about the crisis we are facing and how we are causing it. I felt like the world was ending around me and I was doing nothing to help. I felt this overwhelming panic arise inside of me and I wanted to escape the room before I would suffocate.

But that was not the only time I experienced it and in the survey the majority said that they experienced eco-anxiety on a weekly basis! Their experiences of eco-anxiety were:

  • "A crushing feeling of nothing is working and nobody is listening and what’s it all worth anyways"
  • "Fear for the impacts of climate change"
  • "It’s a fear of death I think, not just your own mortality though but the death of loved ones, future generations, MAPA and the hardship that comes with that. It’s a fear if death that we as climate activists have been confronted with far too soon"
  • "Constant weight of eternal doom and hopelessness on your shoulders, anger and frustration at political inaction and calmness and constant worry about whether flooding will occur in my country or forest fires will happen again in the country I was born in, destroying everything."
  • "Intense worry about the environment "
  • "The feeling of extreme panic or anxiety surrounding the mortality of the planet, it's ecosystems, and the humans I love that depend on it"
  • "existential fear"
  • "Being worried about what will happen next. Being worried about your future. Worrying that your friends don't care."

But, Eco-anxiety doesn’t just attack climate activists, it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere. Maybe you have even experienced it before or experience it daily.

It can be an incredibly debilitating challenge that can affect peoples' lives. But it is understandable where this anxiety comes from. When hearing about climate change, the troubles of the world and being told that our future is disappearing and is something we have to fight for, our survival instincts awaken. We are worried about our lives, our future, our children, those we share the planet with and our planet. What can be even more worrying is the lax attitude of many people in power who have the ability to stop this crisis but are doing nothing about it. 

And for some people, their eco-anxiety can be so unbearable that they turn away from climate change, action and justcie completely, they don't want to hear about climate change, actions to take or anything to do with it at all and shut that information away to protect themselves. This can lead to a build up of inaction, in an era where taking action and making change is everything. So, by acknowledging that eco-anxiety exists we can help ourselves and others to deal with it so it won't block us from taking action.

The first step to recognising eco-anxiety can be discovering the symptoms. The main symptoms expressed from the google form were:

  • Feelings of fear
  • Feeling distressed
  • Scattered brain/thoughts
  • Not being able to focus
  • Constant feelings of worry
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Obsessive thoughts about climate change
  • Grief over the loss of our natural environment

Once it is recognised that you are experiencing eco-anxiety there are many ways to be able to cope and deal with it so it doesn't interfere with your life. These can be:

  • Act. Taking action can replace the feelings of hopelessness with hope as you are actively dealing with the threatening problems and solving them.
  • Spending time in nature
  • Spending time with friends
  • Reading about the successes out there with climate action to counteract the problems the climate crisis is causing so there is a balance of seeing the positives and the negatives.
  • Creatively expressing yourself through writing, drawing, art.
  • Talking to friends, family, professionals, pets, other activists - it can make one feel less alone and to be able to hear about other experiences and how others can cope with eco-anxiety.
  • Exercising
  • Meditation
  • Learning breathing techniques - one is think about 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and take one deep breath.
  • Touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth or clenching your toes to take your attention away from your thoughts.
  • Dancing to your favourite music.
  • Research about eco-anxiety to understand why you are feeling the way you are.
  • Asking for help/ Getting professional help.

Once you have found out what helps you to cope with eco-anxiety it can be liberating as doing these methods on a daily basis can keep the anxiety bearable and controllable. You are taking charge of your life.

One key thing to remember is many people experience eco-anxiety so you are not alone!

To find out more information about this topic, these two amazing sites explain eco-anxiety very well: