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Climate Change Distress: What It Is and How to Cope

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Melting ice caps, greenhouse gasses, endangered species, deforestation – these and more environmental concerns are increasingly plaguing the minds of people all around the world.  In fact, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that 80% of people worldwide are strongly concerned about the condition of the environment today. 

On a positive note, efforts are being made to reverse environmental damages.  For instance, federal and state governments have issued laws and regulations to help curb the deterioration of the environment. Furthermore, many concerned private citizens are joining the green revolution and doing their part to preserve and conserve the planet’s precious resources. 

While these efforts are laudable, climate change and environmental deterioration are still Herculean issues that are increasingly haunting Americans and worrying people all around the globe.  So much so, that the American Psychological Association (APA) has identified a new mental health threat called Climate Change Distress.

What is Climate Change Distress?

Also known as eco-anxiety, ecological grief, or eco-trauma, Climate Change Distress is a mental state in which people experience extreme angst or depression over the condition of the environment.  According to a survey from Yale, 70% of Americans claim they are deeply impacted by environmental issues and experience intense anxiety about the destruction of natural resources.

For some, this environmentally-centric anxiety can manifest into legitimate mental health issues.  Symptoms of eco-anxiety can look a lot like post-traumatic stress, panic attacks, existential dread, or obsessive behavior. It can also lead to prolonged depression, insomnia, and other mental maladies which can lead to physical ailments. With this in mind, here are a few ways to cope with this very real and unsettling mental health condition.

Get Involved

If you’re suffering from climate-related anxiety or depression, getting involved in an environmentally conscious organization can help.  Getting active in local or global groups that work to help the environment can provide you with a sense of accomplishment.  Plus, you are doing your part in making a positive impact on the environment when you join forces with eco-conscious societies and communities.

Knowing that you are contributing to the solution for conserving the environment also provides a sense of control.  This is important because many people who suffer from eco-anxiety feel as if climate change is in a state of chaos. Therefore, getting involved establishes a sense of order and control in an otherwise unstable situation.

Do Your Part (Even if it’s Small)

Another way to gain control over Climate Change Distress is to make adjustments in your daily life that supports and honors the environment.  Small steps such as recycling and repurposing waste will make you feel better knowing you’re doing something to contribute to the environment’s survival. 

Additionally, think about purchasing wisely.  Buy items with biodegradable or reusable packaging.  Also, purchase items that are locally sourced from businesses that are committed to environmental preservation.  While these actions might appear minute, if you realize they add up to improve the world, this can also improve your attitude.

Get Active Where You Live

The most effective approach to eco-therapy is taking action when and where you can.  For instance, start healing yourself while healing the planet by growing an eco-friendly garden in your yard. Growing a sustainable garden is both good for the environment, and can be incredibly therapeutic. 

Also, consider switching over home cleaning supplies and detergents to environmentally-friendly products.  You might also think about installing solar panels and rain barrels so you can take advantage of renewable resources.  With a little research, you will discover a myriad of ways you can help save the planet and your sanity right in your own home or backyard.

Talk About It

As mentioned, Climate Change Distress can manifest in many different ways.  From post-traumatic stress symptoms to fear of dark water, environmentally-centric mental issues are serious and can negatively impact the quality of your life.  As such, you owe it to yourself to talk about your legitimate grief, concerns, and anxiety about the environment. 

If you’re truly suffering, the best relief is to talk to a professional counselor or mental health specialist.  These experts can give you tools and resources that will help you cope and manage your angst over climate change and other environmental issues.

Bruce Davis is a founder and retail director of Abundance Generation, a fellow at the Finance Lab and a research fellow at Bauman Institute

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