If you’re deeply concerned about the state of the planet — to the point that your anxieties are affecting your life or relationships — you have plenty of company.
Increasingly, psychologists and other mental health experts are talking about “eco-anxiety,” which is a new-ish term for distress, fear, and other negative emotions brought on by thoughts of climate change and human inaction. Recent surveys of young people have found that 45 percent say negative feelings about climate change are impacting their daily life or functioning.
Eco-anxiety isn’t a diagnosable mental health condition, and it’s worth noting that its definition is still evolving in psychological literature. The researcher who coined the term called it a persistent fear of environmental doom.
Others have described it as mental distress or anxiety that is experienced in response to the ecological crisis.”
“Eco-anxiety can be mild or more severe,” says Caroline Hickman, PhD, a lecturer and eco-anxiety researcher at the University of Bath in England.
In some of her published work, Dr. Hickman has attempted to map the different types of eco-anxiety. In her experience, “mild” eco-anxiety involves feelings of distress that come and go. People in this state are still able to experience optimism about the future or in humankind’s ability to respond to the crisis.
On the other end of the spectrum, people with severe eco-anxiety are nearly inconsolable, and feel certain that the planet or the human species (or both) are headed for an unavoidable catastrophe. Their distress is so great that they can’t function in day-to-day life, and they may even be suicidal.
Hickman has experience helping people cope with all forms of eco-anxiety. She and others say there are several helpful ways to lessen the burden of climate-related distress so that people can move forward with their lives and contribute in a positive way to the fight against climate change. Here are some tips.