In its healthiest form, climate anxiety can be a good thing: calling your attention to a problem you need to prepare for, psychologists say. ...But the anxiety so many of us feel about the planet we love can be paralyzing, says Renée Lertzman, Ph.D., a consultant on the environment, psychology and culture whose 2019 TED Talk on the topic has millions of views...".
- "List what you love about your life. It may not seem directly related, but you need to calm your brain before ideas about how to make a difference can come to you, Manning says. This involves developing what psychologists call “meaning-focused coping,” which can include everything from thinking about what you appreciate in your career or family or the natural world around you, to enjoying weekly sunset walks with a friend.
- Recognize we can all affect change. Think about how women got the vote, gay marriage became legal and South African apartheid ended, suggests Hayhoe. “Those didn’t happen because some influential person or a president decided it was time, but because ordinary people decided the world had to be different and they used their voices to start the change,” she says. For example, a hospital technician started a petition to divest their institution’s retirement funds out of fossil fuels, Hayhoe says. “We often picture climate action as a giant boulder at the bottom of a hill with a few hands on it, but when we look at what so many people and groups are already doing, we realize the giant boulder is at the top and already rolling down, and it has millions of hands on it that we can join,” she says.
- Find your people. “If you have deep concerns about the climate, it’s really important that you have people who take those concerns seriously and don’t gaslight you,” Manning says. Plus, joining forces amplifies solutions. There are national environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and niche groups like the nonpartisan Protect our Winters for those who enjoy snow sports. Finding groups in your own community is especially valuable, because the practical solutions that can arise — more green spaces to help with cooling, say, or bike lanes to reduce driving — will help your locality. Besides, being part of a group is in and of itself a stress reducer.
- Push the powerful. The biggest impacts will be made by those whose decisions affect us all, so voice your concerns to companies you do business with and campaign and vote for politicians who understand the urgency.
- Know small actions matter. Every step you take (using a colder wash cycle, or driving an electric car) has merit, so don’t worry about being perfect. Lertzman and Hayhoe have both cut down, but not cut out, airplane travel (a huge contributor of heat-trapping carbon) by bundling multiple speaking engagements at each location. Last fall, Katy Romita, a 45-year-old meditation instructor in Mamaroneck, NY, started a website, One Small Stone, offering online meditations to others seeking to calm their climate anxiety.
- Ease your kids’ angst. Involve your children in climate solutions in a fun way, such as by volunteering to plant trees during your city’s annual drive or joining the NASA-sponsored Globe Program, where parents and kids monitor temperatures of sunny and shady spots to contribute to climate data, suggests Sandi Schwartz, author of Finding EcoHappiness. Actions like these are beneficial for making children feel better, but “it’s important not to make the child feel like it’s his problem to fix,” Clayton says.
- Spread the word. When you make any climate-friendly shift in your life, tell friends and relatives so they might follow. Almost everyone can be influenced if you help them connect the dots by using language reflecting their values. “It’s not about telling them they should care for the same reasons you care. It’s about listening for what they’re passionate about,” Hayhoe says. When climate-skeptical Republicans in two congressional districts were shown ads featuring people and terms they related to — an Air Force general describing national security implications and an evangelical Christian (Dr. Hayhoe) emphasizing her faith’s teachings about caring for the planet — they became more open to the climate’s harms, a recent study published in Nature Climate Change found. Other researchers have documented how a dismissive audience becomes more keen to act when local impacts of the crisis are emphasized.
- Don’t argue with deniers. Fortunately, 7 % of the population feels strongly that global warming isn't happening. “If that’s your family member, say ‘I love you but you’re wrong,’ and move on. Don’t try to have a productive conversation,” Hayhoe advises.
- Get help if you need. Reach out to a therapist if climate anxiety starts overwhelming you. You can also talk to others in online climate cafes or at the 10-step climate support group Good Grief Network. And remind yourself that even if your own community is directly impacted, you will bounce back. “Resilience is the ability to function and thrive in the face of negative events,” and humans have this resource in spades, Clayton says. As we tackle climate change, that’s something to feel good about."