Why do we experience eco-anxiety and what steps can we take to cope?

It’s World Mental Health Day on October 10th, so we’ve decided to tackle the issue of eco-anxiety this week. Have you experienced anxious thoughts when envisioning the future of our planet? We here at Last certainly have, and we’ve discovered that we’re far from alone! Some anxious thoughts you might have around environmental issues are likely surprisingly common. Fearing the effects of natural disasters, anticipating the loss of a home and worrying about the quality of life of future generations are all widely experienced anxious thoughts. So, how real are our fears and how do we cope? What if I told you that, despite what the news headlines might suggest, it’s not actually too late to stop climate change in its tracks?


First thing’s first, what exactly is eco-anxiety? Eco-anxiety (or climate anxiety) is a term used to describe feelings of fear, stress or hopelessness at the prospect of climate change. The Lancet attributes these feelings to an “increasing global awareness” that immediate action is required to avoid the harshest consequences of climate change. Climate anxiety is particularly prevalent among young people and news outlets such as National Geographic have produced articles for parents with tips to help their children deal with climate anxiety


Experiencing eco-anxiety is of course a fitting response to the circumstances we currently find ourselves in. However, it’s important to note that certain newspapers purposefully stoke the fires of climate anxiety, simply because bad news sells. Take the recent IPCC climate report for example, while news headlines have focused heavily on negativity to pull on people’s emotions and push sales, the IPCC report is much more hopeful in its outlook. The report very clearly states that so long as action is taken immediately, we can absolutely reduce the severity of climate change impacts.


As quoted by Insider, “in the best-case scenario, the global temperature would rise just 1.5 degrees between now and 2040, then dip back down by the end of the century.” This means that we can still choose a better outcome for our planet. Pretty positive stuff, right? To reduce feelings of climate anxiety, therefore, it may be helpful to avoid engaging with emotionally driven news headlines. Make sure to block publishers that use these tactics from your newsfeed, change your news sources or take social media breaks. 


To remain informed on climate issues while avoiding overly negative articles, I would instead recommend seeking out expert sources of information from the IPCC and non-profit organisations. Reading reports that are written from a more neutral perspective may help to reduce negative emotional responses. If you would instead prefer to take breaks from challenging information all together, there are very informative positive news sites and social media accounts to follow that focus on reporting forward progress in climate action. 


Having the courage to fight for a better future is, without a doubt, the difficult road to take. But, by keeping the climate conversation going in a healthy way and taking individual steps to support the larger cause we can encourage others to join us. The more we share positive breakthroughs in environmentalism and support each other, the more collective power we have to pressure governments and corporations to do better. The key to stopping eco-anxiety is, after all, to solve the climate crisis. By rejecting the false narratives sold to us that it’s “too late” or “out of our hands” and instead putting pressure on institutions to change, we can take meaningful steps to achieve this.


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