Understanding Eco-Anxiety and How to Manage It

By Angela Tague in Healthy Feeling

If you enjoy keeping up with environmental news and trends like I do, you might've come across the concept of "eco-anxiety," also known as "climate trauma." You might be able to guess what these terms are getting at, but what do they really mean, and how are conditions like these impacting people and communities? I decided to do a little research to learn more. Here's what I discovered.

Colorado wildfires

Defining Eco-Anxiety

Eco-anxiety, climate trauma, climate despair, and climate doom all define the psychological burden people experience during and after a traumatic, climate-related event, such as a heat wave, wildfire, or tornado. In the aftermath of a destructive weather event, PBS explains that professionals specializing in disaster mental health are often deployed to provide "psychological first aid" in addition to ensuring access to basic necessities like water, food, and shelter.

Tom's of Maine Incubator Aliyah Collins, who works with communities to connect environmental justice to spiritual care, puts it this way: "Climate trauma is a type of anxiety brought on by repeatedly experiencing or witnessing life-altering climatic changes—for example, a whole community being wiped away by a hurricane." Aliyah explains that Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are often more susceptible to catastrophic weather conditions. So, while climate trauma can affect anyone, BIPOC communities, people living in the global south, and low-income populations are especially vulnerable to mental health effects.

The military helps rescue a family from a boat in a flooded neighborhood.

What Causes Eco-Anxiety

Experiencing traumatic weather events, witnessing their destruction, and facing recurrences can all take a toll on your mental health. Long-term effects of climate trauma include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder, substance abuse, and increased feelings of anxiety or guilt. Some of the primary stressors that trigger climate trauma include:

  • Competition for scarce resources
  • Forced evacuation or migration
  • Loss of crops, businesses, or infrastructure
  • Displacement from a home
  • Increased violence
  • Loss of community structure
  • Falling into poverty

How to Cope with Climate Trauma

Seek Professional Help

As with any health issue, the best first step is often seeking help from a trained professional. To mitigate eco-anxiety and get on the path to healing, early psychological intervention is key. According to PBS, talking with a trained professional can help ease elevated heart rates, reduce stress hormone surges, and bring your body out of the fight-or-flight response.

Author Angela Tague walking along a nature trail near a forest of green trees

Spend Time Outside

Reconnecting with nature to deepen your roots to the land can also help. Forest bathing (immersing yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest), taking a walk along the beach, or even visiting a botanical garden can help encourage a sense of calm. In fact, one study found that forest bathing helps alleviate depression, reduce blood pressure, and improve overall mental health.

Embrace Your Faith

According to Aliyah, leaning into spiritual practices can also help, whatever that means for you. Try to dedicate at least 20 minutes each day to your favorite spiritual or self-care practice, whether that's meditation, prayer, singing, journaling, drawing, or yoga. Connecting with others who follow the same beliefs or engage in similar interests can also be nurturing and generate a sense of support.

Limit Media Consumption

Sarah Lowe, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Yale School of Public Health, suggests limiting the amount of climate-disaster-related media you absorb. She believes that the more news you consume, the more likely you are to experience severe psychiatric symptoms—whether you're directly impacted by the disaster or not.

This doesn't mean turning a blind eye. Educating yourself about the state of the planet and how you can help is fundamental to creating individual and collective change. But tune into your personal threshold and shut off your laptop or phone when enough is enough. Avoid doom-scrolling or revisiting photos of devastation or the same heart-wrenching video clip again and again.

Prioritizing Your Health

Climate change impacts mental health, and terms like eco-anxiety and climate trauma validate and reflect that. Thankfully, humanitarian organizations and mental health professionals increasingly understand the impact of surviving a climate disaster. If you're feeling stressed about current, past, or potential climate change issues, reach out for help. The American Psychological Association offers a free online psychologist locator to help you take the first step.

Keeping an eye on positive momentum can help, too. Learn more about some of the organizations out there making positive change and building hope for the planet's future.

Image Sources: Pexels | Flickr | Flickr | Angela Tague

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Feeling stressed and anxious about climate change-related disasters is normal. Speaking with a mental health professional can help reduce eco-anxiety and put you on the path to healing and recovery after a major environmental catastrophe.