Coping With Climate Anxiety

Fires, floods, bigger storms, and unbearable heat are a “normal” part of life now. It’s no wonder climate anxiety is plaguing our mental health. Here’s what it means and how we can cope.
illustration of a person meditating on a yoga mat. Their hair billows upwards into colorful tropical leaves
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Maybe you’ve seen the phrase “climate anxiety” pop up all over the internet. Maybe you’ve felt it yourself.

Since 2019, the term has been recycled by news outlets and Instagrammers to describe the very real emotional reaction many people are experiencing as a result of the climate crisis. According to a 2021 study from the University of Bath, 59% of 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 are extremely worried about climate change. Over 45% said that climate feelings negatively affect their daily lives. Respondents who felt most worried were from nations that have been hit hard by climate change already and felt like their governments weren't doing enough, including those from the Philippines, Brazil, and India.

Climate anxiety is one way to describe the stress and worry about climate change and its effects, and though it is widely used, are we all talking about the same thing? Better yet, should we really be trying to rid ourselves of it?

Investigating Climate Anxiety

Selin Nurgün, a queer Turkish American somatic coach and climate resilience practitioner, says we should be embracing all of our climate emotions. While anxiety is often spoken about, grief, dread, and guilt are also feelings that many people experience related to the climate crisis.

“[Climate anxiety] is turning a bit into a buzzword and becoming divorced from experience and real action,” Nurgün says.

“That is the opposite of what we need to be doing. I believe we need to be actively practicing how to become more resourced people willing to grow their capacity for discomfort and uncertainty, while centering joy and imagination. This is so that we may face our reality everyday, rather than turn away from it.”

At the root of the climate crisis and our climate emotions are systems that destroy natural resources, exploit labor, and encourage large-scale overconsumption and industrialization. While colonization, capitalism, and white supremacy continue to destabilize the planet and destroy natural resources, we cannot detangle ourselves from emotions brought on by these issues.

Climate Connection to Feminism

Vandana Shiva, environmental activist and ecofeminist, believes a strong connection between identity and land is the key to forming a healthy and sustainable relationship between people and the planet.

“The failure to understand biodiversity and its many functions is at the root of the impoverishment of nature and culture,” Shiva says.

Ecofeminism, by definition, is the distinct connection between women and nature, and how both exist under patriarchal structures. The term coined by French feminist Francoise d’Eaubonne offers us a lens to look through when we discuss the climate crisis and helps us ask deeper questions. As oppressive systems continue to foster and promote individualism, capitalism, and globalization, Nurgün finds themself working together with their community to address climate emotions.

“Ecofeminism can describe and help us kind of frame the crisis we are in right now with disembodied and disconnected people and leaders all over the place,” Nurgün says. “We’re responding to the destruction we are seeing.”

There are several ways to address the emotions we are collectively feeling in response to the rapid destruction of the earth, and isolating and ignoring them may not be the most productive solution.

How to Process Climate Anxiety

Somatics, a word with roots in the Greek word meaning body, is an opportunity for connecting between the emotional and the physical. It’s a ritual practice where feelings are allowed to present in the body in whatever way they arise. Nurgün finds that it is one of the ways that has most helped them deal with their own climate emotions.

“It’s really a philosophy of experiencing what is within; connection that aims at repairing the perceived split of the mind and body,” says Nurgün. It’s an experience of the self in the present moment.”

Through movement, the body is able to release tension and bring internal stress and turmoil outward.

It is not the only option, however, when it comes to addressing climate emotions. Talk therapy is another way to identify and explore distressing and intensifying feelings. Gathering with peers in a support group can help resolve the loneliness of climate anxiety, and can also help solve the ever-present question—what do we do now?

“There is such a great and understandable urgency within social and climate movements for systemic change, that many activists inevitably fall into martyrdom and burnout," offers Nurgün.“If we're going to stay with the work for the long haul and be effective leaders, we must learn how to listen to what our bodies are communicating.”

There is such a great and understandable urgency within social and climate movements for systemic change, that many activists inevitably fall into martyrdom and burnout. If we're going to stay with the work for the long haul and be effective leaders, we must learn how to listen to what our bodies are communicating.

—Selin Nurgün, somatics coach and climate resilience practitioner

As we continue to be complicit in the systems that perpetuate the climate crisis, the crisis and our emotions toward it will remain. These systems reward and replicate violence and are ingrained in the way we respond, promoting isolation and distraction rather than addressing how we feel and channeling that emotion into action.

Removing these emotions from our lives completely is an impossible task considering the steady rise in global warming. Instead, a better use of our energy and our feelings can be funneled into communicating our distress, organizing within our communities, and fighting against the purveyors of climate change.

Rachel Komich (they/them) is a queer writer, archivist and organizer from Ohio currently living in Miami, Florida. They write about politics, gender and sexuality, and things that make them curious.

From Green American Magazine Issue