Anxious About Climate Change?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on September 14, 2021
3 min read

Climate change happens when fossil fuels are burned, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide builds up and makes the earth’s temperature rise. While climate change is also called global warming, that name’s not accurate. Climate change can heat up parts of the world, but it also causes extreme weather changes which increase floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and more. 

The unpredictability of climate change can cause increases in mental disorders. If you’ve been in a natural disaster, you’re more likely to have anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Below you’ll find more about climate change anxiety and how to manage it. 

Eco-anxiety is used to describe the fear, loss, sadness, anger, and panic you feel when learning or living through the first-hand impacts of climate change. This occurs because of: 

  • Habitat destruction
  • Biodiversity loss
  • Environmental pollution

Eco-anxiety isn’t a classified anxiety disorder. It was first coined in 2017 by the American Psychological Association. It’s a term used to bring public awareness to the anxiety people feel about the destruction society has caused on the planet. This type of anxiety can cause or worsen pre-existing mental health conditions.

As weather changes become more severe and storms become more unpredictable, climate change is taking a greater toll on people’s mental health. Americans whose mental health was affected by climate change rose from 47% in 2019 to 68% in 2020. 

Climate change has three kinds of impacts on people. 

Immediate impacts. This is when natural disasters happen and cause destruction. These unpredictable events can cause PTSD, anxiety, depression, and stress. Self-harm, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation are also concerns after a natural disaster. 

Gradual impacts. This is anxiety about the slow, long-term effects of climate change. This includes rising temperatures, higher sea levels, and different rain patterns. Gradual impacts can cause chronic stress, which includes low energy, tension, and headaches. 

Indirect impacts. This occurs when climate change changes your perspective and makes you think about yourself, others, and the world differently. This can happen when you’re not directly affected by climate change. 

Children might be more susceptible to the effects of climate change anxiety than adults. The changing landscape can permanently alter their brain structure since they’re more vulnerable to stress and everyday anxiety. These changes and chronic stress can cause mental health conditions to occur later in life, especially if they’re faced with continuous stressors related to climate change. 

Climate change can have all kinds of effects on the weather. To help relax your anxiety, you should plan ahead for potential emergencies. This will help you feel confident in having a plan. When packing an emergency kit, include the following: 

  • Food and water
  • Flashlights
  • Books and games to reduce stress
  • Important medications and refills ahead of a storm

Another way to plan ahead is by creating an evacuation plan and then evacuating as soon as orders are given. This can help reduce stress and anxiety leading up to a storm. If you’re out of the path of the storm, you're less likely to have mental health effects afterward. 

An important part of managing anxiety and mental health conditions is talking to someone you trust. You deserve access to counseling and therapy if you are experiencing anxiety or depression. Therapy can help you create healthy coping mechanisms when you’re experiencing events caused by climate change

It can be challenging to know if your child is affected by climate change anxiety. Some signs of behavioral and psychological changes include: 

  • Bed-wetting
  • Inability to speak
  • Stress or fear when there’s no weather event
  • Extreme concern over weather events
  • Feelings of hopelessness or self-harm 

Anxiety about climate change, also called eco-anxiety, is caused by your awareness of the impact of climate change on our planet. While there are many resources telling you how to help, there are not many resources telling you how to cope. It’s common to feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by the thought of climate change’s impact on our environment. It’s good to share these thoughts and feelings with a trusted individual. 

If you need help or are having suicidal thoughts, reach out immediately to a helpline. They'll be able to talk you through your feelings. They may be able to connect you with a licensed mental health professional. Getting professional help will allow you to work through your stressors and anxieties related to climate change.