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Climate change has burned deep in everyone’s minds. The images of wildfires scorching forests, floods upturning vehicles, and cyclones destroying houses are a few sights that humans cannot ever forget, let alone ignore. These are very real impacts of climate change, and they’re affecting people’s mental health. Scientists and doctors are now starting to refer to this as ‘Eco Anxiety’. Eco anxiety is a feeling of fear, especially among the young, that our world and planet are environmentally doomed.
Eco Anxiety has already carved out a significant space in some people’s daily lives. The increasing concern among people about the climate crisis and frequent environmental disasters leads to psychological disorders. Eco Anxiety stems from the concern about one’s future and that of the coming generations. People can also suffer from Eco Anxiety watching governments and influential organizations treat the climate crisis with indifference, not seriously attempting to minimize its impacts. The seriousness of the psychological consequences associated with Eco Anxiety varies among people.
Currently, there is no data on the number of people suffering from this new disorder. But, experts say that as climate change progresses and becomes more intense, the number of people experiencing Eco Anxiety will increase. A recent report on the psychological impact of climate change said that public concern about the planet’s future is already growing.
Neglecting the effects of Eco Anxiety can increase the social and health inequalities among those vulnerable to these psychological climate change impacts. Eco anxiety is increasingly affecting children, young people, and communities with the least resources to overcome the effects of the climate crisis.
A study found that almost 6,000 people in ten countries aged between 16 to 25 were extremely worried about climate change. Over half of this number felt powerless, helpless, guilty, sad, anxious, and angry about the climate crisis. 45% said their concern for the world’s environment is negatively affecting their daily life and functioning. This was the first study that offered the general public insights into how young people feel abandoned by governments and the older working class. Most of the young people surveyed said that governments are leaving them with no future.
Globally, many children and young people are suffering from climate anxiety and distress due to climate change and the inadequate way governments are responding to it. These stresses on a person’s mental health can threaten their overall health and well-being.
Eco Anxiety does not affect everyone equally. Eco anxiety tends to affect people more aware of the need for environmental protection. To better understand Eco Anxiety, there is an urgent need for research into this psychological disorder and government responsiveness to the mental state of people and the climate crisis.
According to the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists (RC Psych), 57% of psychiatrists reported seeing children and the young deeply concerned about climate change and the current state of our environment.
Doctors say that Eco Anxiety is neither a diagnosis nor a mental illness. However, it can still harm mental health and well-being. Therefore, look out for these common symptoms:
1. Low mood
5. Difficulty in sleeping
7. Slight anxiety
In some serious cases, Eco Anxiety can cause a feeling of suffocation or even depression. It is even common for some adults to express guilt about the state of the planet over concerns for their children’s future.
Psychological disorders like Eco Anxiety can have profound implications. The mind can develop psychological responses such as fear, resignation, helplessness, and conflict avoidance. These responses can act as barriers to collective action in mitigating further climate change and global warming.
So what can we do to overcome the rising levels of climate anxiety? The best way to increase optimism in the young with Eco Anxiety is to ensure that they have access to the best information on climate change adaptation and mitigation. If you’re a young person suffering from Eco Anxiety, explore information about how you can connect more strongly with nature and contribute to a greener world at the individual level. Engage with like-minded communities, groups, and people. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that spending time in nature as a family will go a long way in calming it in children and young people. This can improve their emotional resilience and optimism.
A critical factor that can reduce the feeling of guilt among the eco anxious is doing a small bit of caring for the planet. Here are some tips:
1. You must’ve heard the saying, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Climate change is the world’s common enemy. Climate change education can help increase your own and other people’s knowledge of the problem. This way, we can better understand how to contribute to fighting it.
2. Be a responsible consumer. Buy only what you need. Recycle as much as possible to protect the environment. Reduce your consumption of plastic items.
3. Engage in sustainable activities. Set up an urban garden. Anytime you’re out walking on the streets, pick up litter when you see it.
4. Commit to sustainable transportation methods. Bike wherever and whenever possible. If you do need to travel by vehicle, use public transport or carpool. Try to use your private vehicle less often.
5. Eat sustainable foods. Buy organic, local produce. Support local farmers. Reduce meat consumption. Don’t demand food products that need to travel halfway around the globe to reach you.
6. Avoid those little things that waste resources. Don’t leave the tap open when you brush. If no one’s in the room, turn those lights off.
Lastly, the good news is that the fight against Eco Anxiety is increasing awareness about climate problems and the need to care for our planet. Feeling uncomfortable about your future isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Collective guilt and action can transform young people into green activists like Greta Thunberg. You can be a part of making the future of our planet a prosperous one. Just remember to stay on the positive side and don’t let that feeling of helplessness get you down. Collective action can change our world for the better.