If you feel constant stress, fear and hopelessness about climate change, you might have climate anxiety. Keep reading to learn what climate anxiety is, how it can affect your mental health, and how to manage climate anxiety symptoms.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- What is climate anxiety?
- Why climate anxiety is more common than ever
- Is climate anxiety a mental health condition you can be diagnosed with?
- Signs of climate anxiety
- How climate anxiety can affect your life and health
- Practical ways to cope with climate anxiety
- How to support someone else who is experiencing climate anxiety
- How to get support if you are experiencing climate anxiety
- Where you can learn more about climate anxiety
🌏 What is climate anxiety?
‘Climate anxiety’ is the term commonly used to describe the growing phenomenon of experiencing chronic stress and anxiety about climate change.
Concern about the political, environmental and health aspects of climate change has been increasing in recent years. Young people are experiencing high rates of climate anxiety, and the intense emotions they are feeling include fear, grief, uncertainty, powerlessness and a sense of hopelessness about the future.
Experiencing climate anxiety could have noticeable effects on your day-to-day life and can impact your mental health on either a mild, moderate or severe level. Someone with climate anxiety could experience feelings of depression, grief, anger, fear, guilt, shame, powerlessness, hopelessness and more.
For most people, climate anxiety is rooted in their concerns about how climate change will affect both their own future and the future of humanity.
🤯 Why is climate anxiety more common today?
This study found that 75 per cent of young people (ages 16–25) admitted to being terrified about the future, due to climate change, and nearly half of those surveyed said climate anxiety and distress was affecting their daily lives and functioning.
There is no single reason why climate anxiety is becoming more common. It is most likely a mix of several things, such as:
- The evolution and ever-growing threat of climate change. Climate change knowledge has evolved a lot in the last 50 years, and the last decade in particular has been marked by extreme weather events such as bushfires and wildfires, floods, heatwaves and hurricanes. It’s estimated that 20–50 per cent of people who live through unpredictable and extreme weather events can develop elevated rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But even if you haven’t experienced an extreme weather event, with the unrelenting nature of the threat and the increasing dangers associated with climate change, it makes sense that there would be increasing effects on mental health.
- Increased awareness of climate change. We know more than ever (but not everything) about climate change. It’s only been in the last decade or so that climate change is something we’re all aware of and commonly talk about, so while increased awareness has many positive aspects, ignorance can sometimes be bliss because more knowledge can sometimes result in more stress, fear, anxiety or depression.
- Increased coverage of climate change-related issues in the media. In recent years, we’ve seen more and more stories about bushfires, floods, heatwaves, storms, and other massive climate change–related events on our TV screens and social media. This increased media/online coverage, where devastating news stories and images are right in front of us constantly, increases our awareness of the issue, which can result in feeling anxious, depressed or stressed.
- Lack of action by political groups on climate change. Many people feel powerless to do anything to fix climate change, which is frustrating in itself. So, seeing the lack of action by political figures and parties that do have the power to make real changes can exacerbate our feelings of despair and frustration.
- Likelihood of being affected. Young people are experiencing high rates of climate anxiety because they are the ones who, in the future, are most likely to be affected by the long-term effects of climate change.
- Likelihood of making inequality even worse. Marginalised groups (including First Nations people, people with disability, women, migrants, and rural and remote communities) also experience high rates of climate anxiety because current estimates show that the effects of climate change will worsen current inequalities such as health inequities and food safety.
👩⚕️ Is climate anxiety a mental health condition you can be diagnosed with?
Climate anxiety is not a medical condition or a mental health diagnosis, and so it’s not something you can be diagnosed with by a doctor or psychiatrist.
‘Climate anxiety’ and ‘eco-anxiety’ are common terms used to refer to the anxiousness, stress and fear that someone can feel due to climate change, but ‘climate anxiety’ isn’t a type of anxiety disorder. You can learn more about the different types of anxiety disorders here.
However, even though climate anxiety itself isn’t a mental health diagnosis, some people who experience it can have mental health conditions, like depression or an anxiety disorder.
If anxiety over climate change is having an impact on your day-to-day life, it can be a good idea to visit a doctor to discuss how you’re feeling. A GP will be able to work with you to figure out what’s going on and help you with managing the stress you’re experiencing.
If you’d like to speak to a psychologist, your GP can also write a referral and create a Mental Health Care Plan for you, so you can have ten psychology sessions under Medicare.
Climate anxiety is really quite a normal, rational response given the massive threats we’re facing and some research shows that it is linked to pro-environmental behaviour.
— Psychologist Tara Crandon, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
🚩 Signs of climate anxiety
While climate anxiety looks different for everyone, there are some common feelings and emotions that many people experience.
The signs of climate anxiety can include feeling:
- sad, disappointed, or low in mood
- angry or frustrated
- fearful or scared about the future
- guilty or ashamed
🧠 How climate anxiety can affect your life and health
Chronic climate anxiety can have serious effects on your physical and mental health, behaviours and general functioning.
Here are a few examples:
- Day-to-day-functioning. Feeling stressed on a regular basis can have negative effects on your thinking skills, so you could struggle to concentrate at school or work, have difficulties making decisions, have issues with memory and learning, and more.
- Mood. Experiencing feelings of grief, fear and stress regularly can affect your mood regulation, so you could have noticeable periods of low moods or of feeling restless and irritable.
- Behaviours. The negative effects of climate anxiety can cause behavioural changes, and you could find yourself starting to exhibit common symptoms of stress or anxiety (e.g. feeling tense and restless all the time, having issues sleeping, feeling irritable) or of depression (e.g. long periods of feeling down or miserable, withdrawing from family and friends, losing interest in hobbies you love, having issues sleeping, struggling to keep up at school or work).
- Some people with climate anxiety don’t want to plan things for the future because they feel ‘there’s no point’ and so begin to change their behaviours and plans based on their climate anxiety and uncertainty about the future. For example, they might not want to finish school, start university, date or have relationships, or start a family. (NOTE: If you suspect you’re making decisions based on fears about climate change, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional about how you’re feeling.)
- General mental health effects. The symptoms of climate anxiety can range in severity – some people may find the effects are manageable and don’t affect their mental health severely, while others may find them debilitating. Mental health effects can include low moods or mood swings, tiredness or sleeping difficulties, feeling restless and irritable, being angry or having outbursts, feeling worthless, having low self-esteem, feeling ‘numb’, struggling to cope with everyday situations such as school or work, and more.
It’s important to note that while the effects of climate anxiety can have an impact on your mental health, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a diagnosable mental health condition. Only a mental health professional can determine this, so if you need help to manage the effects of climate anxiety or if the symptoms are worsening, visit a GP to chat about how you’re feeling.
They will talk to you about the symptoms you’re experiencing and refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist if needed. You can learn more about visiting a GP to chat about your mental health and getting a mental health care plan here.
💪 Practical ways to cope with climate anxiety
Here are some tips for managing the symptoms that come with experiencing climate anxiety:
- Know that you’re not alone. There are young people all over Australia who are worried about climate change.
- Take action. If you’re feeling hopeless about what others are (or aren’t) doing about climate change, make some environmentally friendly changes in your life. For example, you could use a reusable coffee cup and shopping bags, practise recycling, or take public transport. You can find more ideas here.
- Advocate for change. Your voice matters, so make yourself heard by attending protests, voting based on your values, or writing letters to politicians urging them to take action on climate change.
- Remember what HAS been done. It’s okay to feel a little hopeless in the face of such an enormous issue, but when you’re feeling down, try to remember how far we have come with battling climate change and all the good things that have happened, because there’s actually quite a lot of them! Check out the Climate Optimist newsletter created by Harvard School of Public Health, or take a look at the School Strike 4 Climate website to see some of the impressive collective action that has already taken place in Australia.
- Talk about how you’re feeling. Sharing or venting to someone can be a huge stress reliever, so talk about your concerns with a parent or other trusted adult. Or talk to a friend – it’s likely that they’re feeling the same way.
These are just a few suggestions for how you can manage stress related to climate change, but you can find plenty more tips and ideas for how to manage climate anxiety here.
👪 How to support someone else who is experiencing climate anxiety
Here are some tips for supporting someone who is experiencing climate anxiety:
- Acknowledge their feelings. Before you delve into taking any action, the best thing to do is assure the person that it’s okay to feel the way they do.
- Take action to ease their anxiety. Much of climate anxiety stems from feeling a lack of control over the future, so it can be a positive idea to remind the person that even small actions can make a big difference. Organising some personal environmentally focused changes together can help the person regain some sense of control and management over their feelings. This could be things like implementing a recycling or green program at home or at school, getting rid of one-use plastic (shopping bags, straws, etc.) or pledging to do ‘meat-free Mondays’ together.
- Support them in making their voice heard. Starting to participate in activism can be a really important part of managing climate anxiety, as it can help with feeling that you are taking back some control and doing something to make a difference. Being by the side of someone with climate anxiety while they do this can be a great way to provide them with support. This could mean attending protests or rallies with them, joining them in a letter-writing campaign to political figures, or, if you’re of voting age, giving your vote to politicians and parties whose policies prioritise tackling climate change.
If you’d like to learn more, you can read about supporting someone who is experiencing climate anxiety here.
👂 How to find support for climate anxiety
Talking to family/friends
Chat with a trusted friend or family member who shares your values and concerns about the environment. Talking to someone can be a massive stress reliever, and can help you to cope with your feelings of climate anxiety by breaking big issues down when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Learn about why talking helps here.
For some tips on how to have the conversation, 5 steps to talking to someone you trust.
Seeing a mental health professional
If you're feeling anxious or stressed because of climate change, it can be a positive step to visit a doctor to discuss how you’re feeling. A GP will be able to work with you to figure out how to manage your stress. Sometimes high stress levels can be a sign of something else that’s going on, so a doctor will be able to help you figure this out and guide you from there. Your GP can also write a referral and create a Mental Health Care Plan for you.
If you would like to see a mental health professional who has a high level of awareness of climate anxiety and the stress that some people can experience about climate change, Psychology for a Safe Climate has a directory that allows you to search for ‘climate aware’ mental health professionals.
Other support services
If you’d like to hear from other young people about their experiences with climate anxiety, or share your own story, check out the ReachOut Online Community’s thread about coping with climate anxiety.
If you’re feeling like you need someone to talk to now, you can contact:
- beyondblue: phone support available on 1300 22 4636.
- Kids Helpline: phone and online counselling for young people 5–25 years on 1800 55 1800.
- Lifeline: online chat counselling is available seven days a week, 7 pm–4 am (AEST), or telephone counselling is available 24/7 on 13 11 14.
- headspace: phone and online support for young people aged 12–25, available every day 9am–1am (AEST) on 1800 650 890.
- Suicide Call Back Service: immediate telephone counselling and support is available in a crisis on 1300 659 467.
Specialised support services include:
- 13YARN: for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of all ages, available 24/7 on 13 92 76 or 13YARN.org.au.
- Embrace Multicultural Mental Health: culturally and linguistically diverse–focused mental health service that offers mental health information for CALD people translated into a range of languages.
- QLife: national mental health and peer support service for LGBTQIA+ people of all ages, available 3pm to midnight on 1800 184 527.
If you’d like to see more options for national and local support services for mental health, you can find a detailed list here.
🎓 Where can I learn more about climate anxiety?
If you’d like more information about climate anxiety and how to manage it, here are some resources to check out:
- Coping with Climate Change – Psychology.org.au
- Dealing with Climate Anxiety: Tips Tools and Resources – Climate Council
- Coping with Climate Anxiety factsheet – Red Cross
- 101 Things You Can Do To Address Climate Change – Psychology.org.au
- Climate Change and Mental Health – Black Dog Institute
- Is Climate Change Keeping You Up At Night? – Harvard Medical School
What can I do now?
- Learn some more tips and practical strategies for how to manage climate anxiety.
- Want to chat with a peer worker one-on-one about feeling anxious about climate change? Book a free online chat session with ReachOut PeerChat.
- If you feel overwhelmed seeing news stories about big climate change–related weather events, check out this story on how to cope with bad world news.