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Climate change and its emotional impacts

Many people often think of climate change as simply a physical issue; obvious changes are occurring around the world that are observable, measurable and open to analysis. While many recognize these apparent physical impacts, such as the wildfires, hurricanes and tsunamis, along with their increase in both frequency and severity, these issues often overshadow a seemingly pressing problem on the rise. As global warming worsens, resulting emotional implications are becoming increasingly common. 

These impacts, known by many names, such as environmental anxiety, climate anxiety, eco-anxiety and climate grief, are defined as the impending sense of “environmental damage or ecological disaster … based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change,” according to Medical News Today. Environmental anxiety can prove detrimental to one’s everyday life, filling an individual with a sense of hopelessness and causing issues such as a constant lack of motivation, increased aggression and even fatalism. 

Environmental anxiety also impacts different people in different ways, depending on one’s relationship with the environment. For example, someone with a strong connection to nature who may live next to a national forest might be more likely to be impacted psychologically by the forest experiencing a wildfire than someone who lives in an urban community far away from the disaster. Based upon this, it could be argued that there is a clear relation between geographic distance to a disaster and one’s emotional distress resulting from it. To add, people who live off the land, such as Indigenous groups, are more likely to be impacted in their everyday life by the changes to the surrounding climate, and therefore are more likely to experience environmental anxiety. 

From this, one could assume there is an increase in environmental anxiety among individuals in areas that are more prone to disasters caused by climate change. Coastal regions, areas with nearby forests and the tropics are more likely to experience these disasters. Furthermore, people who may work in environmental-related spheres are more likely to be impacted given the concern about retaining their jobs: “People who work in environmental jobs or as first responders and emergency healthcare workers might also be more prone to eco-anxiety,” according to Medical News Today

While environmental anxiety can be a serious issue in one’s life, there are many ways to mitigate its impact and reduce climate-related stress. Many people combat their environmental anxiety by becoming part of the solution; while it is true that many climate-related issues require systemic change, engaging in activism to support those systemic changes is a great way to feel as though you are creating a better future and thus reducing your anxiety about it. That said, it should be mentioned that it is possible to over-involve yourself in these efforts. As one engages in activism, they are more likely to hear about new climate-related issues which could actually work against them and worsen their own anxiety about the future. 

Nevertheless, lots of environmental anxiety is caused by misinformation. As a result of this, while it could be considered a double-edged sword, educating oneself about climate change and global warming and their resulting environmental impacts is critical. Given the nature of educating about climate change, it is important to have limits—you want to be able to disprove the misinformation that may be causing you anxiety while simultaneously preventing further anxiety as you potentially learn about different issues. Therefore, when it comes to

education to reduce environmental anxiety, it is entirely up to the individual’s discretion and each case is unique. To build off of this, it is also vital for one to know their limits in terms of disengaging. While engaging with climate activism is of course beneficial, like educating, it can also have its downsides and produce even more anxiety. 

Another recommendation for treating and reducing environmental anxiety is to see a professional. As environmental anxiety becomes more prominent, due to both an increase in the severity of the impacts of global warming and knowledge surrounding their resulting impacts on people, more medical professionals are becoming trained to handle these situations. One could consider speaking to a doctor or a therapist in order to try and calm their nerves surrounding the changing world around them. 

To conclude, environmental anxiety is an issue that is becoming increasingly common. While it is not yet worthy of an official medical diagnosis, this does not imply a lack of severity in its potential to wreak havoc in the lives of those who experience it.

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