climate anxiety - picket sign states one world

Don’t Ignore Your Climate Anxiety

Christen Martines | August 21, 2023, Susan Clayton, July 26, 2023

This summer has highlighted the impacts of climate change, and even those who were feeling relatively safe are facing a new reality: Climate change is already happening, and it is going to affect all of us. In addition to all the minor annoyances and inconveniences (Canceled flights! Uncomfortable commutes! Restrictions on outdoor exercise!), these climate change events present real and serious threats not only to physical health and safety, but also to mental health.

As a conservation psychologist, I have observed this through personal conversations and anecdotal reports, as well as multiple research studies on how our changing climate affects our mental wellbeing. Substantial survey data, such as a 2023 report from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, show high levels of worry about the personal impacts of climate change. Research also supports a link between experiences and emotions. For example, a 2022 study showed that the 2021 heat dome (a weather event in which a high-pressure system traps hot air over an area, leading to extended and often record-breaking temperatures) in Canada was associated with a significant increase in climate change-linked anxiety.

These emotional responses are complex. People are not only feeling sad and anxious—young people feel betrayed by the inadequacy of governmental response; people who have contributed very little to climate change are angry that they are experiencing more than their share of the consequences; many feel frustrated by the responses of others, or guilty about their own individual or collective involvement. We might feel all these emotions at once, or cycle through them in the course of the day. These feelings are hard to cope with—but we should own them.

Although it is appropriate to be worried about climate change, at extreme levels, climate anxiety can threaten one’s ability to function, making it hard to sleep, work, or even have fun with family or friends. And since people don’t like to feel negative emotions, we have developed a number of strategies to cope with them—denying there’s a problem, avoiding thinking about it, or maintaining an unrealistic optimism that everything will work out. This makes some sense as a way to protect our mental health, but in reality, it is not very effective. Denying emotional responses does not make them go away. In fact, attempts to suppress them tend to be associated with worse mental health.

To access the full article, click here. 


Latest News

Phone: (888) 625-6116

Fax: (508) 247-9300