How to manage climate anxiety to be a better environmentalist

Photo of climate change protest
Steve Rainwater/Creative Commons

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Climate change can no longer be brushed aside or left as a burden for future generations to bear. The harsh realities of the climate crisis are changing how we, as a society, define “normal,” and they are threatening the lives of young people and future generations. This is evident in not only political and economic discourse but in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

In the face of such imminent and pervasive threats, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and lose hope in the future of our planet. Climate anxiety and “eco-grief” are now a part of everyday life. It is common to relieve this feeling of helplessness by becoming withdrawn and apathetic to the future of our planet. Environmentalists may experience burnout and climate anxiety amidst their impassioned efforts to educate others and instigate political change. We must not disregard the importance of our mental health and wellbeing, so as environmentalists, we have a responsibility to not only take care of the planet but to take care of ourselves. When dealing with climate anxiety, here are some ways to find relief and avoid burnout. 

Connect with nature 

Spending time outdoors and in nature can significantly improve your mood and overall well-being. Breathe in the fresh air and listen to the birds singing. The peace and quiet that nature has to offer will ground you in the present moment and allow unnecessary stress to dissipate. A hike in your local regional park or a camping trip with friends can do wonders for your peace of mind. Starting a home garden or volunteering at a community garden is also an opportunity to get outside and get your mind off of the stress of daily life. By dedicating time to connecting with nature, you are respecting the importance of your physical and mental health and reminding yourself of the beauty that the environmental movement is fighting to protect. 

Share your emotions and fears with others

Like any experience with mental health, if you are experiencing climate anxiety, you are not alone. Your friends, family and peers likely share similar feelings and concerns, so reaching out to someone you trust and respect can be profoundly beneficial. Also, finding a community of environmentally conscious people with similar values can be an effective outlet to relieve anxiety. Environmental organizations and support groups for climate anxiety provide opportunities to express your emotions in a safe, welcoming space and recognize that you are not alone. If you are interested in speaking with a mental health professional or support group, check out the Climate Psychology Alliance North America or Good Grief Network’s eco-anxiety support group. There are also numerous online support groups available, including the Parents for Planet Facebook group. 

Allow yourself to take breaks

There is no such thing as a perfect environmentalist. Everyone gets overwhelmed occasionally and needs a break from stressors. If climate anxiety and burnout are taking a toll on your mental health, it is important to recognize this and be patient with yourself. Take a break from things that trigger your anxiety — such as climate news or social media — and dedicate time to taking care of yourself. We must prioritize our mental and physical health over environmental activism, and then you can return to your efforts with even more spirit and enthusiasm.

Take action

When feeling overwhelmed by the vast effects and the rapid progression of climate change, we can get caught up in the things that we cannot easily control. It is generally ineffective to dwell on statistics about the rate at which sea levels and global temperatures are rising, as this can be detrimental to our mental health and lead to “climate doomism,” the feeling that we are powerless against the inevitability of climate change. 

It’s more constructive to channel your concern for the environment into action. Any efforts toward policy change and increasing public awareness can make a difference. You can donate or volunteer for an environmental organization, contact your local representative and most importantly, vote! Also, incorporating small changes into your daily routine, such as composting your food scraps and avoiding single-use plastics, can ease your climate anxiety.

Day-to-day life entails enough stress and anxiety, so your passion for environmentalism and love of nature should not cost you your health and wellbeing. If you are experiencing climate anxiety, take time to remind yourself of what matters most and treat yourself with the respect and kindness that you deserve. A “perfect” environmentalist is one who knows when to prioritize their mental health.

Contact Chloe Tiltonat [email protected].