The anxiety related to climate change is real. Here’s how you can deal with those feelings: NPR


Tens of thousands of Americans are already living through the climate crisis. They lost their homes, pets and loved ones.

But even if you haven’t experienced any deep harm yet, you can still feel the stress of the crisis. Maybe you don’t have air conditioning and had to move in with a friend during the last heat wave. Maybe you check the air quality every day because of the smoke from forest fires. Or maybe you were going through the last big rainstorm and worried about getting carried away by your car.

Phoenix Smith is an eco-therapist who works with climate change anxiety. They say emotions related to climate change can sound like mourning.

“It can be denial at first, then you can have fear and anger, then sadness,” they say.

These feelings are also manifested physically.

“When you’re in fight-or-flight mode, you cringe,” Smith says. “You hold your body tight.

It’s climate anxiety – all the ways the climate crisis affects the way we think and feel.

These feelings don’t go away, but here are five ways to recognize them, sit with them, and use them. We’ll give you tools to build resilience and deal with these feelings over the next decades.

Let you feel the feelings – all

Smith lives in California and they have witnessed the decades-long drought in the state, made worse by climate change. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, when things get back to normal.’ There is no “normal” to come back to, ”says Smith.

Smith says when you really sit with it this degree of loss, you may feel fear or hopelessness. These feelings are a normal response to this crisis, they say, and you can’t just inject optimism and dismiss your negative feelings.

“We’re all going to be uncomfortable,” Smith says. “Then I’m not going to tell you. ‘Do this! Do that!’ No, we’re all going to have to learn and find tools to learn to sit with discomfort. ”

So first, just let yourself feel all the feelings. They are complex and intense, but only by recognizing them can you begin to approach them.

Find a way to reset and calm your central nervous system

Britt Wray is the author of Gen Dread, a newsletter on staying sane and making sense of the climate crisis. She says climate change opens up a world of uncertainty, and our brains don’t like it.

“What often happens with climatic emotions is that they can push us outside of what’s called our window of tolerance,” says Wray.

The window of tolerance is the “pleasant zone”.

Wray says this is the place where “life is like smooth sailing. We can be our best. We can judge the future and make decisions in the present.”

But the uncertainty of the climate crisis throws us out that window, and we may find ourselves without mooring. So Wray says finding tools for engaging in the present helps.

“Mindfulness practices, along with meditation, can be very effective at just grounding yourself in the present moment, bringing you back to baseline when you might otherwise be spiraling,” says Wray.

Breathing exercises also help tidy up your nervous system, says Smith. The same goes for going outside, even if it’s just going out on your porch, or going to the park or hiking.

Smith says being in nature “has the effect of calming your central nervous system so that you can find a way to reset yourself.”

Find someone to talk to, and we’re not just talking about a therapist

You might be able to reset yourself, but you might need to talk to someone.

If you can find a therapist, look for something called climate sensitive therapy. Wray says these therapists won’t tell you that desperation in the face of the climate crisis means you’re engaging in catastrophic thinking.

“Instead, they validate it as a normal, reasonable and fully understandable stress response to what is an ongoing existential threat.”

But if you’re among the majority of Americans who don’t have access to professional therapists, contact your friends, family, or neighbors. You may find that these feelings are much more common in those around you than you previously thought.

It’s important to recognize, however, that for some people in your life it may be too difficult for them to talk about the climate crisis.

“What will often happen is that you provoke their anxiety by talking frankly about it, face to face,” says Wray. If their response is to reject you, “it definitely leaves people feeling more alienated and isolated.”

This is why Wray suggests going online to find communities of other people experiencing climatic emotions. She suggests climate cafes online.

“[These are] places where you can just virtually jump and for a night out, talk openly, in a vulnerable way and say, “You know, I feel like that. I face a lot of desperation. I don’t really know what to do. And you?'”

She says engaging with these online communities can be a way to build solidarity and think of creative ideas to tackle these climatic feelings together.

Channel your feelings to connect with others

One of the feelings that can arise with the climate crisis is numbness.

“Ecological anxiety can often lead people to paralysis,” says Wray. “The feeling that the desperation is so immense that they begin to conclude that there is nothing to be done.”

You don’t have to disown these more desperate emotions, but Wray says you can tap into other more energizing feelings as well. “Other forms of emotion that can be really motivating, like anger at injustice, anger that we are in the situation. “

There have been major institutional failures that have caused climate change. If that infuriates you, Wray says you can use that rage as a starting point for taking action.

“This is something that many leaders in climate space rely on as an activating emotion,” she says.

Smith says connecting with others can be like getting involved in politics related to climate change legislation or activism around environmental justice.

Maybe that means helping people in your community who are facing high food prices or unaffordable housing. She suggests joining a support network to do things like deliver groceries to those in need.

Making connections can also involve thinking about the past. In her ecotherapy workshops, Smith says she started asking people about family practices related to nature. People would remember things like their grandmother growing a certain plant or a family camping trip.

Remembering and recreating family traditions, especially around nature, can be a way to heal fear around the climate crisis, Smith says.

“Creating family rituals, remembering and integrating your ancestors is a very healing and empowering way of dealing with the fear that surrounds all change. [that] happen, ”she said.

You may end up thinking about mortality, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing

“It’s really hard to talk about the climate crisis without it becoming a conversation about death,” Wray says with a chuckle.

“I live in a canyon, in a mountain. There is drought everywhere,” she says. “I am very aware that there could be fires at any time.”

Wray says she probably won’t live in this canyon forever, but she enjoys being there now and embracing the quality of the moment.

“The beauty of those pumas and lynxes on the street, there are little migrating newts and all that cool stuff. But who knows how long this will last? I’m not particularly sure,” Wray said.

She says she has adopted this conscious perspective of lifelong mortality, and she thinks there is something healthy about it.

Smith says that thinking about climate change raises questions such as “Is this the life you want to live, and is this the life you want to pass on to your children?” “

These are big questions, she admits. But these are the most important, says Smith, and the answers are worth seeking out.

“You’re not going to find it in a lineup or in a sound clip or on the interweb,” Smith says, “It’s in you.”

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Clare Marie Schneider, with technical support from Leo Del Aguila.

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