“Eco-anxiety” is a newer term but has become widely known as more begin to understand the severity and urgency of the ongoing environmental crisis; it is a form of anxiety related to environmental issues, including climate change, pollution, deforestation, species extinction, overpopulation and other environmental challenges.
Understandably, ‘doomscrolling’ (the act of spending an excessive amount of time reading negative news online) and seeing keywords like “torrential floods,” “melting ice sheets,” “rainfall warning,” or “heat wave” can increase environmental anxiety.
Eco-anxiety can lead to helplessness, despair, and loss of hope for the future—especially for Gen Z or those born between 1997 and 2012. Climate anxiety is greatest for Gen Z, who have been bombarded with news of climate disasters on social media and in the news. They “feel betrayed by government inaction” and upset when told they are “overreacting to what they see as an existential threat.” Close to 40% of Gen Z surveyed also said that fears about the future have made them reluctant to have children one day.
Eco-anxiety, like generalized anxiety, involves excessive worry and fear about the future. However, eco-anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that is rooted in concerns about the environment.
The issue of climate change can often be politicized, and although we can challenge and reframe our anxious thoughts around environmental issues, eco-anxiety centres on valid concerns about the planet. Current climate issues are complex, and it is natural to feel concerned about the impact of climate change on our lives. Nonetheless, it is important to note that eco-anxiety can have similar symptoms and treatments as generalized anxiety, like cognitive-behavioural therapy, as well as other therapeutic and relaxation techniques.
To minimize and manage Eco-anxiety prioritize your mental health by:
• Connect with like-minded people. Join a local environmental group or participate in environmental campaigns. Studies show that connecting with like-minded people can reduce isolation and provide a sense of community and purpose.
• You may get tired of hearing it, but it’s essential to practice self-care. Engage in activities that help reduce stress (exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature or with pets).
• Learn more about how you can educate yourself on environmental issues and take action/concrete steps to reduce your environmental impact, like reducing energy consumption and recycling.
Engage in a Mindful Way
69% of Gen Z feel anxious after seeing online content about climate change and we live in a time where we have constant access to news and information. Staying informed about current events is important, and it’s amazing how technology allows us to learn news so quickly; however, too much exposure to negative news can worsen anxiety and stress. We know that when it comes to anxiety, it is best to act not avoid. But taking a break doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding, and sometimes, when it comes to climate news, a break is a must.
• Be mindful of how much news you consume. Some people strive to remain up-to-date on the latest news to show that they care about the world around them. Staying informed is essential, and caring about your peers is fantastic, but limiting your exposure to negative information to protect your well-being is equally important. Try to find a balance to protect your mental health.
• Minimize anxiety around climate news by setting app time limits. Because social media and news apps can be significant sources of stress and anxiety, consider setting app time limits to help manage your screen time and reduce exposure to negative news.
• Choose your news sources carefully, as not all are created equal. Try to stick with outlets that are reputable, unbiased, and trustworthy. Avoid sources that sensationalize news stories or rely on clickbait headlines.
• Talk about it when you’re comfortable, but when eco-discussions spike your anxiety, you don’t have to say, “I can’t talk about this,” or “I am avoiding the news for my mental health.” Shutting a subject down abruptly can sometimes anger those who are passionate about a subject. Instead, you can briefly listen and express that you haven’t yet read up on the issue yet to inform an opinion before changing the subject.
Taking a break from the news cycle and prioritizing your mental well-being is okay (and even recommended). Why not try the free MindShift CBT app that helps you challenge and overcome anxiety at: https://www.anxietycanada.com/resources/mindshift-cbt/