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Navigating Climate Anxiety: How to Turn Your Feelings Into Positive Action

Climate anxiety is totally normal. In the most recent episode of Good Together, Dr. Renee Lertzman shares how to turn those feelings into positive action.

Written by
Briana Dodson

If you've taken a look at the news lately, or checked the recent trending events on social media, some of the devastating environmental events we're experiencing may leave you feeling angry, worried, and helpless. But you aren't alone.

Terms such as "eco-anxiety" and "climate anxiety" can paint a pretty dismal picture of what you're actually feeling. In this episode of Good Together, Brightly co-founder Laura Wittig talks to Renee Lertzman, PhD—a researcher, educator, and eco-engagement strategist—about what climate anxiety is. And, how we can turn these feelings into more positive actions that are good for our own mental well-being and the planet. 

Climate Anxiety Is Totally Normal

Some days, you're making sustainable choices and feeling good about the future. Others, it's hard to imagine how the very small actions you take could make a difference. These feelings, or persistent worries about the future of the planet, are often framed as a problem. But Dr. Lertzman describes them as a "very, very healthy and normal response... a signal of our vitality."

Oftentimes, we're trying to treat these feelings instead of learning how to navigate them. We all have individual responses—anger, confusion, guilt—to the issues going on in the world. "I think that what we see that looks like people not caring is actually, under the surface, feeling overwhelmed," she says. "It's feeling powerless, it's feeling maybe in conflict." So, what can we do?

Lean On Others for Support

It's hard to know where to start, and it's not uncommon to tune out the news and turn off those things that make us more anxious. But instead of running away from those things, Dr. Lertzman says to try talking about your anxiety with the people you trust.

"Who do we surround ourselves with? And who do we have access to?" she says. "Something that's often overlooked is really recognizing the power of being connected with people who we can speak openly about these things."

By talking it out, we can find solace with others who are experiencing similar thoughts and struggles. You're never alone—especially when it comes to something as common as eco anxiety.

Guide, Don't Persuade

On the other hand, talking to others who don't share a mutual love and concern for the planet can be frustrating and confusing. How you talk to people can make all the difference. "I don't think it's about convincing people," Dr. Lertzman says. "Instead try asking, "How do I engage? How do I partner? How do I guide?"

She has a few suggestions for talking to others around you. "Try saying, 'This is why I'm doing this. This is why I'm so invested. What's your experience?'" she says. Go for a "let's-see-what-we-can-do-together kind of thing, as opposed to just pushing solutions and positivity all the time."

Look at the Bigger Picture

Some of these issues can (literally) seem like the end of the world. "For younger people, this all feels super immediate, and unique and unprecedented—all of that," Dr. Lertzman says. "But if you zoom out, and you look at human history, and you look at big movements in the past, I think it's very, very important to get that bigger perspective and context."

When we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we can determine how we can contribute to make an impact. For some, that may be starting to compost or thrifting clothes instead of buying new. For others, it may be spreading the word about eco-friendly living on Instagram. Take control of how you can contribute and do more of it. Sometimes small steps make the biggest difference.

Be Kind to Others and Yourself

Experiencing ups and downs in our sustainable journeys comes with the territory. "When we start policing ourselves and each other, it kind of limits our capacity," Dr. Lertzman says. We all have different ways of coping with eco-anxiety, so being more supportive and less judgmental is really important.

Ultimately, remember that these feelings you're having aren't a sign of weakness. They're deeply rooted in love—love for yourself, for others, and for the planet.