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  • 24 March 2022
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Dealing with Climate Anxiety

Ashley Schmidt

Climate anxiety is defined as anxiety associated with perceptions about climate change (Clayton, 2020). It can affect anyone who knows about climate change. This may sound like a broad statement; however, considering the number of people in the world who have access to the internet, it should come as no surprise that anyone can access information on just about anything.

So, what causes climate anxiety? The short and obvious answer is climate change; however, climate change does not impact everyone equally. With that being said, let’s discuss the two primary effects of climate change in terms of how it impacts mental health. Pihkala (2019) outlines these using the terms “direct effects” and “indirect effects.” Direct effects are those brought on by occurrences in nature that are made worse by climate change—such as flooding—that have a direct impact on mental health. Those who are directly affected by climate change are among the portion of the population who are most at risk of experiencing climate anxiety. Other groups that fall within this category are children, individuals who are elderly or chronically ill, individuals affected by mental illness, individuals who are affected by mobility impairments, and individuals who care deeply about environmental issues (Dodds, 2021; Clayton, 2020).

Indirect effects are those that are related to climate change but not caused by it directly. Indirect effects are associated with the impacts that climate change has on factors of everyday life, such as stress about the potential for a future climate disaster or a disruption to a particular facet of the environment that negatively impacts livelihood (Clayton, 2020). The internet is a great example of how we can be indirectly affected by climate change. We may know a great deal about climate change and feel strongly about it because we can easily access information on it without having to experience it head-on. While it serves as a valuable tool for sharing and accessing information, the internet is also a massive platform for sharing subjective experiences and opinions—meaning that the information we are taking in and attaching emotions to may not be factual. Oftentimes, those who are indirectly affected by climate change rely on their social and cultural environments to dictate whether they grasp the reality of it or not (Clayton, 2020). While climate change poses an objectively real threat, if it hasn’t been experienced first-hand, we are likely to rely on our social groups or cultural values to tell us how to feel about it.

Now that we have covered the basics of how and why climate change can affect us, let’s discuss what is causing climate anxiety to occur and how we can deal with it. One of the primary reasons that climate anxiety is so prevalent is because there is so much uncertainty (Clayton, 2020). This uncertainty, coupled with misinformation being so widespread, creates a difficult situation in terms of managing climate anxiety. While it is encouraged that individuals experiencing climate anxiety acknowledge and validate their emotions so they can appropriately manage their responses, it can be difficult to do so with so much social polarization on the issue of climate change. Feeling unable to express emotions about climate change with authenticity contributes to feelings of isolation, which can inhibit one’s ability to cope with climate anxiety (Clayton, 2020).

Now, let’s talk about coping. It’s a big topic, just as climate change is a big problem. With climate anxiety becoming a popular topic of research, there will likely be many more suggestions in the near future concerning how individuals can manage their climate anxiety symptoms effectively. Given the information available today, some suggestions include individual counseling, support groups, and engaging in climate change activism efforts. This is not an exhaustive list, in part because the experience of climate anxiety varies so widely that there isn’t an end-all-be-all solution, and, also, because tackling climate anxiety has a lot to do with tackling climate change—and that is a very tall order. Individual efforts are meant to help individuals cope and manage symptoms of climate anxiety; this starts with validating the emotional responses of climate anxiety and finding a supportive network of individuals who acknowledge the reality of climate change (Dodds, 2019).

While the individual efforts mentioned above are aimed at developing emotional coping strategies for an uncertain future, community and societal efforts are aimed at the bigger picture. Going back to the suggestion of engaging in climate change efforts, Clayton, Silka, Trott, Chapman, and Mancoll (2016) provide a thorough report on suggestions for working toward community climate efforts. To summarize their points, community action is important to climate change efforts because the effects of climate change vary from location to location, and communities are better capable of assessing their unique needs at a local—rather than national or global—level. Consider the direct and indirect effects again; these are also related to the area that the people are in. What coping looks like in an area directly affected by climate change can be very different from how it looks in an area populated mostly by those indirectly affected—the environmental, social, and cultural climate can be particularly influential in these. For those looking for a more action-oriented method of managing climate anxiety, consider looking into the local community for efforts that are currently being made to address climate change.

Since experiences and perceptions are different for everyone, climate anxiety symptoms can manifest with varying severity. The severity of an individual’s experience may impact the suggested method of managing their symptoms. While many researchers agree that individuals who are experiencing climate anxiety can improve their symptoms by actively participating in efforts to reduce climate change, this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. For individuals who experience severe symptoms of climate anxiety (e.g. extreme distress and constant, excessive worry), it is suggested that distance from any source of information about the changing climate would be most beneficial (Clayton, 2020).

There are many suggested methods to managing climate anxiety symptoms, but the right one for you depends on your own personal experience and needs. Climate anxiety is a natural response to a very real—and very uncertain—threat to our world. If you are experiencing climate anxiety, know that there are resources out there to help you; you are not alone.

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Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.


Clayton, S. (2020). Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 74.

Clayton, S., Silka, L., Trott, C., Chapman, D., & Mancoll, S. (2016). Building resilient communities in the face of climate change. Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 1–10.

Dodds, J. (2021). The psychology of climate anxiety. BJPsych Bulletin, 45, 222-226. doi:10.1192/bjb.2021.18

Panu, P. (2020). Anxiety and the ecological crisis: An analysis of eco-anxiety and climate anxiety. Sustainability, 12. doi:10.3390/su12197836

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