Stressed by climate change? Experts discuss ‘ecological anxiety’ and the tools to combat it | News | San Luis Obispo

Feeling crippling anxiety or depression about climate change and what it means for the future?

You’re not alone. Recent studies show that climate change is having a major and growing impact not only on the environment in terms of fires, droughts and sea level rise, but also on people’s mental health.

According to a 2020 poll by the American Psychological Association (APA), 68% of respondents said climate change was affecting their mental health, a 21 percentage point increase in that response from the same poll by the American Psychological Association (APA). ‘last year.

“Ecological anxiety” has grown so much that the APA now considers it a “significant” mental health issue, according to Jill Bolster-White, executive director of the nonprofit Transitions-Mental Health Association (TMHA). of San Luis Obispo.

“In fact, they have publicly stated that climate change is one of the most critical issues facing our nation and our world today, and it has already impacted the mental health of people around the world. whole,” said Bolster-White, who spoke at a Jan. 19 webinar co-hosted by TMHA and the Sierra Club titled “Mental Health and the Climate Crisis.”

During the two-hour roundtable, more than 10 speakers — from environmental activists to mental health professionals — shared their insights into this troubling trend and what people can do about it.

In general, eco-anxiety is like “a chronic fear of environmental catastrophe,” which can manifest in people as generalized anxiety and obsessive negative thoughts, according to Megan Werner, transitional health navigator at TMHA and senior at CalPoly.

“An example of this would be, ‘What’s the good of having kids? ‘” Werner said during his presentation.

Eco-anxiety is linked to higher rates of aggression and violence, increased feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and fatalism, and intense feelings of loss, Werner added.

“These symptoms frequently reach high levels of concern and therefore require clinical intervention, further overwhelming our already overwhelmed mental health system,” she said.

Surveys and statistics have revealed that people of all races, ethnicities, and genders are affected by ecological anxiety. But there is at least one notable demographic disparity: age. Right now, people 34 or younger have the hardest time coping with ecological anxiety, Werner said.

This phenomenon is evident here in SLO County. Julia Richardson, SLO County Behavioral Health Supervisor, said she has noticed more acute eco-anxiety-like symptoms in the young people she serves at her Arroyo Grande clinic.

Click to enlarge
RISING WATERS Climate change is causing increasing levels of anxiety among people.  A 2020 poll found that two-thirds of Americans were worried about the crisis.  Pictured: King tides at Pismo Beach, an annual phenomenon that shows what an ocean would look like impacted by climate change.  - PHOTO FILE COURTESY OF THE KING TIDES PROJECT

  • File photo courtesy of the King Tides Project
  • RISING WATERS Climate change is causing increasing levels of anxiety in people. A 2020 poll found that two-thirds of Americans were worried about the crisis. Pictured: King tides at Pismo Beach, an annual phenomenon that shows what an ocean would look like impacted by climate change.

“I see more and more of what we call Generation Z, born in the late 90s and [through] 2010,” Richardson said. “The beliefs and thoughts of our Gen Z, our young people, are, ‘Why bother? Why even have kids? I don’t know if anything is going to be around for me. And that creates a lot of negativity and despair and not a lot of desire to be motivated to move forward.”

Richardson explained how these feelings and attitudes can “change our brains” if left unaddressed.

“How we think, how we feel, it literally changes the brain pattern…to a state of heightened arousal to fear, to worry, to anxiety,” she said.

Overcoming the effects of ecological anxiety can be difficult. But panelists offered a variety of tips and tricks for feeling more optimistic and empowered about the future, while staying grounded in reality.

The first tip: don’t try to deny that climate change is happening.

“Allow yourself to cry,” Werner said. “Loss is inevitable and at this point it is already happening. Acknowledge it is happening and allow yourself to grieve, but strive to keep this grief from overwhelming you.”

Another tip was to fight against isolation. Connect with other people and organizations who share similar feelings about the climate crisis. Then, strive to turn that anxiety and depression into helpful actions.

“That could be through…advocacy groups, maybe cleaning beaches, or mitigating your car use and therefore your environmental footprint,” Werner said. “Or you can also take independent action in your own life” by recycling, composting, being a conscious consumer or voting for climate-conscious leaders at the polls, she said.

Charles Varni, an activist with the Surfrider Foundation, recommended these steps and also emphasized self-forgiveness.

Living in a perfectly sustainable way is often not possible in today’s world, Varni said. Having expectations that are too high or an all-or-nothing attitude can sometimes be a barrier to action and lead to more discouragement.

“There is a lot of guilt and a lot of perfectionism, are you doing enough in your daily life to save the Earth? said Varni. “But in terms of forgiveness, we’re all born into an existing system, and it’s the system that created climate change, and we’re part of it. I encourage people to recognize and celebrate your actions that put you on the right track side of the story.I encourage people to reject these perfectionist expectations.

One final tip for eco-anxiety mentioned by nearly every panelist: get out into nature.

“Go read a book on the beach. Take a hike. Hammock. Surf or run,” Werner said. “The options are endless, especially in SLO.” Δ

Associate Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at [email protected]

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