Climate anxiety is real, but there is something you can do about it.

A student in Wendy Petersen Boring's climate-change-focused class said she woke at 2 a.m. and then cried for two solid hours about the warming ocean.

May 7, 2019, 10:54 am
By: The Darryl Louis Medauction.com Report
Petersen Boring, an associate professor of history, religious studies, women & gender studies at Willamette University in Oregon, has been teaching about climate change for a little over a decade. In that short time, she has watched her students' fear, grief, stress and anxiety grow. "Back in 2007, it was the mouse in the room; then, it became the elephant in the room. By 2016, those concerns and fears began to flood over," Petersen Boring said. Her students aren't alone. Polls show that many more Americans worry about global warming. There's no clinical definition, but climate anxiety and grief or solastalgia -- "the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment" -- has become such a concern that the American Psychological Association created a 69-page climate-change guide to help mental health care providers. There are support networks like Good Grief in Salt Lake City, created to help people build resilience while discussing "eco-anxiety," despair and inaction on the environment. There's even a growing number of organizations of people promising not to have children "due to the severity of the ecological crisis and the current inaction of governing forces in the face if this existential threat," as a group called BirthStrike puts it. Who can blame them? This year's climate change headlines are depressing on a good day, terrifying at worst: Climate change linked to greenhouse gas emissions has created record high temperatures and more extreme storms, droughts and wildfires. Those climate change-related natural disasters have had a profound negative impact on the mental health of survivors of these extreme events, according to the United Nations. Suicides have increased, as have depression, anxiety, stress, grief, anger and PTSD. Even for people who aren't directly affected by natural disasters, climate change is causing measurable mental distress. Higher temperatures alone have led to more suicides and increased psychiatric hospitalization and have hurt our sleep, which can also also harm mental health. These problems will get worse as the temperature continues to rise, research shows. It's going to take an enormous global effort to keep the planet from that catastrophic point. Yet the Trump administration has buried government reports on climate change. Trump pushes for "American energy dominance," developing initiatives that reward greenhouse gas-producing industries. This lack of political will is compounding some people's anxiety, experts say. "With the Trump election, the change in my students, the sense of grief and fear and paralysis in the room, became palpable," Petersen Boring said. Paralysis caused by fear is a real problem, said Susan Clayton, one of the lead authors of the American Psychological Association guide. "The psychological responses to climate change such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness and resignation are growing," said Clayton, a psychology professor at the College of Wooster. "These responses are keeping us, and our nation, from properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate and from building and supporting psychological resiliency." It makes sense and there is a "straightforward therapeutic response to this," Clayton said. Penn State psychology Professor Janet Swim, who has authored several publications about psychology and climate change, puts it this way: "Anxiety is something people feel more and more when they get closer to an anti-goal, meaning a negative result, like the destruction of the planet." People who are anxious tend to be avoidant, or they shut down and don't engage. To ease this feeling of anxiety, turn it around. "Instead of focusing on the fear, you should instead focus on what you want to do," Swim said. "If you get closer and closer to a solution, you can feel more pride and there is hope."
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