How to deal with eco-anxiety


No matter how environmentally conscious you are or how often you think about climate change, its effects are hard to avoid. Forest fires, floods and extinctions are occurring everywhere you turn. Extreme weather and the steady rise of temperature have long since taken a toll on us — if not physically, then mentally.

According to the Guardian, 40% of young people are hesitant to have kids because of the climate crisis. Even more have expressed anxiety surrounding the effects of climate change and how governments handle them. This intense worry is often called “climate anxiety,” and it can be overwhelming. Although we as individuals can’t dial down the global thermometer, we can make sure the doom and gloom don’t discourage us to the point of inaction.

1. Don’t shy away from the science

The geosciences department hosted guest speaker Julia Wellner last Monday, to talk about Thwaites Glacier. Wellner, a sedimentologist at the University of Houston and a 13-time Antarctic traveler mentioned that Thwaites is often referred to as the “Doomsday Glacier,” all thanks to one 2017 Rolling Stone article. While global sea level rise hinges on melting ice, the Thwaites’ ice shelf breaking apart would not necessarily start the apocalypse. Her talk went on to clarify what’s at stake if it did break apart, and the “why” behind glacial melts. Climate change doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but getting a grip on what is happening and why can help offset the panic caused by clickbait-y media coverage.

2. Make small changes

Part of climate anxiety can be a sense of hopelessness. What can we really do when 71% of greenhouse gas emissions come from only 100 companies, like Exxon or Shell? Small lifestyle changes on an individual level frankly can’t measure up, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Try using a reusable straw, walking when you can or seeking local, seasonal produce. Encourage your friends and family to use less water or start composting. Be the first ripple. Even if it doesn’t feel like much, at least you’re doing something.

3. Get involved, talk to others

It’s hard to have existential crises on your own. It’s also hard to express your anxiety to people who either don’t believe in human-induced climate change or don’t care. Finding like-minded people who can relate to your worry can be a breath of fresh air, especially if you come together in action. Joining a group like Eco Allies on campus or even starting a community garden with neighbors will provide you with a meaningful community that’s on the same page.

4. Let yourself feel small

Although counterintuitive to the previous points, don’t be afraid to lean into the anxiety, the hopelessness, the fear. Anxiety does a good job of taking all the energy out of you, so if you feel paralyzed, it’s OK to stay frozen for a little while. Go outside when it’s dark and look at the stars or go on a hike in nature. Witness the processes much larger than yourself and take comfort in your tiny position. Remembering the scale of the universe gives us a break from worrying about the minutiae of our everyday lives, and when it comes to climate, helps us see outside of the devastation within our own atmosphere, even if it’s just for a minute. And if feeling small gives you another crisis, at least it’ll take your mind off of climate anxiety. Whatever works.