As the impacts of climate change have become impossible to ignore, climate anxiety is on the rise. Anxiety can often feel like helplessness, worry, and unease. You might scroll past a meme trying to make light of the doomsday clock and feel your heart race, your breathing speed up or a feeling of warmth wash over you. You may have an unconcious belief that your life won’t be very long; that you don’t need to save for retirement. Climate anxiety is real and can take many forms—from a passing thought to chronic fatigue and feelings of helplessness. It can be treated.
What Is Climate Anxiety?
Ecoanxiety, often called climate anxiety, is defined as “feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to [our] ability to feel like [we] are making a difference in stopping climate change,” according to a 2011 study. The American Psychological Association has succintly defined ecoanxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” Studies have found that as people become aware of their own participation in the delayed destruction of Earth, feelings of guilt can compound this anxiety.
Maybe you’ve already felt this in other social justice movements. Maybe you’re feeling it now. This is a completely normal response to our environment. It’s possible to transform it into something good.
Who Is Experiencing Climate Anxiety?
A powerful opinion article published by Sarah Jaquette in The Scientific American on March 21, 2021 highlights the “overwhelmingly white” response to climate anxiety. While studies consistenly reflect that Black, Indigenous and communities of color are the most concerned and most impacted by climate change, Jaquette points out that climate anxiety spaces are even more white than environmental justice spaces.
As we navigate the emotional toll of witnessing environmental destruction, it’s crucial to center those already bearing the brunt of environmental racism: from Standing Rock to the “sacrifice zones” across Black and Brown communities in the U.S. How does your stance on immigration change when you consider climate refugees? Does my outlook on environmental stewardship pay defer to the thousands of years Indigenous people have cared for these lands, their lands?
Jaquette emphasizes the need to look to BIPOC leaders in this movement as vital to its sustainability. In their own words, “Black, feminist and Indigenous leaders have painstakingly cultivated resilience over the long arc of the fight for justice. They know that protecting joy and hope is the ultimate resistance to domination.”
Transform Anxiety Into Action
While there are hundreds of ways to mitigate our impact on the Earth, some of the most impactful are the simplest to implement. You could choose to only shop second-hand, replace single-use plastics for more sustainable products, or only shop locally. For myself, going vegan was like lifting a weight off my shoulders that I didn’t even know I was carrying. The sooner I was able to align my beliefs and values with my actions, the sooner my mental and physical health bounced back.
Be sure to make just one lifestyle change at a time to avoid burnout. It can feel isolating to make a lifestyle change that no longer fits into the fabric of your social life. Finding community in revolution is the key to its power. The fate of the Earth is not on your shoulders alone. Together, we can do this.