Image: Action is the antidote to despair, so get out there and make your voice heard! (from Climate Council)
“So, at the upcoming election, vote the way your children would if they had the chance: vote for climate action. “
At the Climate Council, we’re no stranger to these feelings, given we work on climate day in and day out. So we have compiled our best tips, tricks and resources to help you along your way.
Remember: in the fight against climate change, we are all in it together.
What is eco-anxiety?
Eco-anxiety (sometimes called ‘eco-distress’ or ‘climate-anxiety’), is a way of describing how people feel when they hear bad news about our planet, the climate, and the environment.
You might feel anxious, worried, upset, scared, sad, angry, overwhelmed or unsure about the future. And that’s completely understandable: climate change is a very real issue, affecting lives, livelihoods, the economy and ecosystems right around the world.
In fact, many psychologists suggest that eco-anxiety, in its most basic form, is not actually considered ‘anxiety’ – as those feelings are an appropriate and rational response to the situation that we’re witnessing.
What can I do to deal with feelings of eco-anxiety?
The good news is that there are plenty of practical things we can do to help soothe our worries and overcome feelings of eco-anxiety.
Here are some of the best ones from the Australian Psychology Society’s guide for ‘Coping with Climate Change Distress’.
1. Take action
Channelling your feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed into something positive that will help the situation is a tried and tested coping strategy. You could:
- Join a climate action group
- USE YOUR VOTE POWER TO GET POLITICIANS TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE
- Email politicians and big business to put pressure on them to act
- Change up the way your household operates by opting for public or active transport, switch power providers to clean energy, improve the energy efficiency of your home
- Sign up to the Climate Council for more tips for getting involved in climate action
2. Take a break
Constantly thinking about, hearing about and talking about climate change can be exhausting and emotionally taxing, so it’s advised to take some time off every now and then to recharge. You could:
- Make a conscious effort to avoid consuming news for a 24-hour period, or while on holiday
- Take a mental health day to yourself to indulge in the activities you love
- Try and build rest into your weekly routine
3. Have fun
Positive experiences are so important for motivating yourself (and others). Being able to enjoy the good times makes the hard work worth it! When we feel good, we are also more likely to want to throw ourselves into helping the causes we care about.
4. Move your body
Exercise is crucial for maintaining good mental health and solid sleep patterns, so make sure you’re still moving those limbs daily! Walking, running, yoga and team sports are some of our faves – especially because they often require us to get outside into nature as well.
5. Focus on the solutions
We already have all of the solutions we need to solve the climate crisis! Focussing on these can give us a renewed sense of hope, optimism and remind us that we CAN fix this.
6. Talk it out
Our relationships with other people have a powerful and positive effect in helping us to cope with whatever life throws at us, so lean on the people around you. Share concerns, thoughts and feelings about climate change with trusted friends, family and colleagues. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with someone you know, consider joining an online community of like-minded folk, or talking to a professional.
A new guide for parents: managing eco-anxiety in your kids
My eldest child is now 11. So I’m adding one more issue to my list of parenting challenges: managing eco-anxiety.
All these worries – whilst valid and important – are dwarfed by the risk of our children not having a safe climate to live in. The adverse effects of climate change threaten our childrens’ right to a healthy existence in a safe, stable environment.
In fact, children today are expected to have poorer health as they age than today’s adults do, because of the worsening and intensifying effects of climate change.
My psychology and paediatric colleagues report that once children get to the ‘tweens’ they start to comprehend the urgency and enormity of the climate challenge, and with that can come anxiety and depression.
A recent survey of 10,000 children and young people (aged 16-25 years) in 10 countries (including Australia) found that 59% were very or extremely worried about climate change, with 84% at least moderately worried. Of note, climate anxiety and distress correlated with “perceived inadequate government response and associated feelings of betrayal”.
It is also important to stress, as mental health professionals are quick to note, that ‘eco-anxiety’ is not actually anxiety – it’s an appropriate and rational response to the robust scientific evidence and the climate breakdown that we are beginning to witness.
Given Australia’s unfortunate international reputation as a climate laggard, Australian children and young people today are likely to be particularly affected within their lifetimes.
As parents, our primary responsibility is to keep our children safe and prepare them for the future. The climate crisis will impact their lives more than anything else, so what can parents do?
The advice from psychologists
- Listen to your kids, be honest in acknowledging the challenge and validate their feelings.
- Attempts to discredit the science, diminish their reaction or shield them from the truth will only worsen the situation.
- Provide examples of the great climate actions underway by so many people around the world – and focus particularly on ones that inspire you, too.
As a health professional, I tend to talk to my kids about what I know: climate solutions in healthcare. There are public health benefits of so many climate actions: cleaner air, healthier diets, greener and cooler cities. Parents working in other sectors – particularly in energy, business, agriculture and transport – could talk about the many opportunities of Australia becoming a renewable energy superpower and the exciting transformations underway in their fields.
Change can start in your own households
Another piece of advice from psychologists is to think local. Work with your children to make changes in your home or within your community. You could also suggest they join a local climate action youth group. This is building your child’s ‘self-efficacy’: their belief that they can make a difference. This step has really important mental health benefits, as action is one of the best antidotes to anxiety. The Australian Psychological Society has a great guide for parents about the climate crisis.
Of course, if you have a budding lawyer, there’s always the option of following along with important legal precedents of children taking the government to court for their failure to protect children’s rights – as in the Sharma case – and now countless others around the world. These are fantastic examples of children taking agency over their situation.
Finally cut yourself some slack and focus on the important things: don’t sweat the small stuff. A few canteen lunches here and some screen time there won’t do too much damage to your kids’ futures. But continued inaction on the climate crisis will.
So, at the upcoming election, vote the way your children would, if they had the chance: vote for climate action.
Dr Kate Charlesworth is a mother, public health doctor and Councillor at the Climate Council.
- A new guide for parents: Managing eco-anxiety in your kids
- 5 tips for dealing with stress in uncertain times
- Coping with the climate crisis series – Psychotherapist Rosemary Randall on Youtube
- Eco distress for young people – Royal College of Psychologists
- Coping with climate change distress – Australian Psychology Society