Earth Day is April 22, 2023, and while it’s a wonderful day to celebrate our beautiful planet, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the feelings of stress or anxiety you may experience when thinking about the effects of climate change or world issues, and how you can cope with these thoughts and feelings.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, climate anxiety can be described as elevated distress and worry about the impact of climate change, including uncertainty, future-based worry, and increased awareness of the real threat of predicted dangers.
If you find yourself being affected by climate anxiety, Dr. Jen Rouse, Clinical Psychologist from our Ontario Structured Psychotherapy program shares five ways to help you cope.
1) Validate your response to climate change
You are not alone! Anxiety related to climate change is climbing for many demographics. This may be particularly true for individuals experiencing the direct effects of climate change (e.g., flooding, wildfires, climate change refugee, etc.), though given that it is a global issue, it can impact anybody. These concerns are normal and valid responses to the issues and challenges that are arising.
2) Feel your feelings
Your feelings are there for a reason! It is important to acknowledge and process related emotions (e.g. anger, frustration, helplessness, worry). Avoiding emotions, like in any circumstance, can lead them to becoming bottled up, more intense, and potentially exploding either internally (e.g. self-criticism, self-anger, etc.) or externally (e.g. irritable or argumentative with others about minor unrelated issues).
Once we process our feelings, through activities such as feeling our feelings, holding space for ourselves, or talking to trusted and like-minded others, we can then let them go.
3) Focus on the reasonable and achievable steps you can take and live your values
As with anything we can worry about, it is important to listen to our emotions and thoughts and make changes and/or look at ways we can problem solve, using our values to guide us. The level of this varies from person to person.
Rather than judging ourselves or others for what we perceive we are doing or not doing, it is also absolutely ok to meet yourself where you are at, acknowledging that we all have different competing demands, levels of responsibilities, geographic locations and capabilities. Doing what you can do is enough.
4) Be mindful of media intake
Reading the news and following certain individuals on social media with regards to climate change can be a great way to stay informed. However, as many found throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, too much information all at once can become overwhelming and leave us feeling stuck.
It is okay to take a step back and put limits on our media consumption so that it is balanced with our other daily activities. This might be only reviewing climate change-related media once a day or once a week, five minutes or 30 minutes at a time, or taking a pause on all-related media altogether. It will look different for everyone, so listen to what your emotions and thoughts are telling you (e.g. elevated anxiety and worry after reading a certain amount of news) and respond as needed (e.g. take a few days away from reading climate change-related news and when resume, put limits in place).
5) Engage in fulfilling activities
As with any stressor or challenging experience, it is important to pace ourselves and create balance. This is especially true with climate change as it is an ongoing issue. Failing to do so can leave us feeling exhausted and burnt out. This is a marathon, not a sprint! So, we need to keep a balanced pace to ensure we have enough energy and resources for the long-haul. Continue to hold space for and engage in activities that provide a sense of enjoyment and achievement. This can include:
- your favourite hobby or finding a new one,
- engaging in self-care activities,
- connecting with friends and family,
- or even just going outside and taking three deep breaths, recognizing that each day, week, or month might look a little different and that is okay.
If your worries or anxious feelings are consuming your day-to-day life, please consider reaching out for support. We are here to help!
Author: Dr. Jen Rouse, Clinical Psychologist, Ontario Structured Psychotherapy