Many of us are grappling daily with the threat of climate change as its effects become increasingly visible. We are experiencing longer periods of drought, more frequent wildfires, and other extreme weather events on a regular basis. Given this, it is not surprising that anxiety related to the climate crisis is taking a toll on our mental health and sense of well-being.
Tweens and teens across the globe are paying particular attention to this topic, as theirs is the future most threatened. A recent study of 10,000 young people in 10 countries found that climate change is causing widespread feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, powerlessness, and helplessness. While some may be inspired to action and activism, others feel overwhelmed and paralyzed in the face of what can feel like such a pervasive, existential crisis.
What is Eco-Anxiety?
Experts call this experiencing “climate grief” and/or “eco-anxiety.” Climate grief refers to a deeply felt sadness, guilt, anxiety, or numbness related to the climate crisis, while the American Psychology Association describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern of one’s future and that of the next generation.”
If you’ve recognized these feelings in your child, it’s important to remember that your personal mindset can significantly impact how they respond to the situation. You can be both truthful and hopeful. You can empathize with their feelings while still encouraging your child to live the secure, spirited life all teens deserve. You can help them see the power of their own individual actions, and adopt new behaviors as a family so they don’t get discouraged.
Here are some suggestions:
- Listen: Take time and make space to listen to the specific worries and fears your child may be struggling with and normalize the feelings that come up. It is natural to feel sad, angry, or frustrated about circumstances out of our immediate control.
- Take Thoughtful Action: Make it a priority to gather information about one or two concrete changes your family can realistically make in your daily lives. Examples include choices about the foods you eat or the items you buy. Make your initial goals realistic and attainable. Once you make small changes, it can be easier to take additional steps if you choose.
- Find Community: Learn more about organizations or projects in your community that you and/or your child can be a part of as a way to build connection with others who are concerned and committed to making a difference.
- Connect with Nature: The healing benefits of spending time in nature are well founded. Plan outdoor activities such as nature walks, participate in creek/beach clean ups, or plant a water-wise garden.
- Practice Self-Compassion: Both you and your child may benefit from self-calming strategies to cope with stress, such as a meditation or mindfulness practice. Be kind to yourself and support your child to do the same, particularly if they’re struggling with existential feelings of guilt. No one person can solve the problems we are confronting, so encourage your child to focus instead on making informed choices and behaving in ways that make them proud and reflect their values.
- Seek Help if Needed: Like any form of anxiety, eco-anxiety can impact all areas of your child’s life. If your child or family is struggling to process these feelings, speaking with a therapist can help. Our Child Training Institute is working with leaders from the Climate Psychology Alliance to train CCY clinical staff and other mental health professionals, to better respond to this rising concern. Please reach out to us to discuss how we can help your family.