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Climate Anxiety Has Resulted in the Rise of Self-Sustainability

Experts say living in a world of climate anxiety has resulted in the rise of self-sustainability. Here's how to manage your fears.

Written by
Stephanie Osmanski

It's easy to get caught up in the negativity surrounding the climate crisis. As we focus more and more on the climate crisis and how it impacts people and the planet, many of us are experiencing climate anxiety.

Climate anxiety is mainly a heightened awareness about the future of our planet, which in turn can cause anxiousness. And we're seeing an increase in climate anxiety, particularly among young people.

A recent study that surveyed 10,000 young people across the globe found that 60% felt either “very worried” or “extremely worried” about climate change. In addition, 45% of participants said their feelings about climate change impacted their day-to-day lives. And these feelings aren't going away anytime soon.

“Climate anxiety is a normal, appropriate response to information—both read about in the media and experienced firsthand—about global warming and the consequences to humans, other living beings, as well as the earth itself,” explains Dr. Peter Fraenkel, PhD, a clinical psychologist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at The City College of New York.

With the rise of climate anxiety, we’re also seeing a new kind of “self-sustainability” practice evolve. This can include anything from practicing mindfulness, taking mental breaks, and setting boundaries around related news and conversation. After all, how can we change as a society if we’re not taking care of ourselves first?

“For most clients, it's what I would call an ‘ambient’ source of anxiety—rarely named as the reason they are coming to therapy, but ‘in the air,’ if you will, like the earth itself, a part of our living context,” Dr. Fraenkel says. “Once it's named by me, clients often then describe how scared they are. I join them in my shared fear, and direct them to the things they might do to contribute to reducing our carbon footprint.”

Someone who is experiencing climate anxiety is likely most concerned with coming to terms with the fragility of both human existence and the existence of our planet. And according to Dr. Fraenkel, most clients' biggest fear is that the planet—as we know it—will be destroyed. Therefore, future generations with face a different, damaged planet.

Though it’s very real and becoming more common, Dr. Fraenkel maintains that climate anxiety is not exactly a diagnosis. It’s not something you have per se, but rather something to be aware of. And something to consider when trying to combat it.

“It's not a disorder that belongs in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," Dr. Fraenkel says. "And the ‘treatment’ is not to teach people mindfulness techniques or to give them medication to calm down and go about our lives as usual, mindlessly destroying the earth. We need to change how we live our lives, and our patterns and means of consumption.”

In other words, a rise in climate anxiety can lead to a rise in action! Making small changes in your daily routines, whether that's choosing more eco-friendly transportation methods or eating more plant-based foods, can help ease those anxious thoughts about the current state of the planet. How? By proving to yourself that you can and will make a change.

Learning how you can make a difference on an individual level can have a greater impact than we may think. And that's what we're doing at Brightly: Empowering each other to make small changes that lead to major change. Check out our guide for turning climate anxiety into positive action for more advice.