Eco- Anxiety: The Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health

18 January 2021 / By Social Media

For a lot of people, the increase in climate change and the consequent environmental crises
can produce emotions of fear, shock, distress, and can also lead to debilitating anxiety. This
feeling of being emotionally overwhelmed and anxious about the condition of the
environment and the problems posed by climate change, is referred to as ecological anxiety.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines eco- anxiety as “a chronic fear of
environmental doom” (2017).
According to medical professionals and researchers, what causes people to experience
increased stress levels and anxiety, is when they feel a lack of control and a sense of
hopelessness against an impending doom that is the environmental crises. Their sense of
wellbeing and mental health is closely linked to the climate and the environment. As a
result, witnessing the threat posed by climate change and increasing global warming on our
lives and finding oneself incapable of reversing this damage, fills people with guilt,
nervousness, and fear. All of this can translate into severe anxiety which can manifest itself
through people complaining of insomnia, increased stress levels, depression, restlessness,
palpitations, and frustration. Eco anxiety can be alarmingly high in parents or people who
are planning on having children, as they realise that climate change is adversely impacting
their own well being as well as their children’s health and there is potentially very little or
nothing that they can do to change this grim situation.
In India, most metropolitan cities are engulfed in pollution, making it difficult for people to
breathe, affecting them physically as well as psychologically. This is exemplified in a news
story from Delhi (2019), where the parents of a twelve-year-old boy had to witness their
only child struggling to breathe after the pollution levels in the city were alarmingly high
post Diwali. Supreet and Kanika had taken every possible precaution over the past three
years to protect their son who was prone to chest infections, by installing air purifiers in
their house, making him wear a mask, and keeping him indoors. However, that particular
year they had to rush their son to the hospital, after he was choking due to coughing and his
face and eyes had turned red.

This is not a one-off incident, a lot of people across the globe share the same plight. Parents
today find themselves struggling and powerless in the face of climate change, realizing that
they have to see their future generations suffering in the face of this crisis.
“People are getting affected by the feeling of frustration and loss and are immensely
worried about their children and future generations,” says Dr. A Sugaparaneetharan,
Madurai- based psychiatrist. “From an evolutionary perspective, all living things want to give
a healthy and protective environment to the next generation. But since we have failed to do
it, we are now filled with guilt and anxiety,” he says (Basu, S. 2019). This highlights the
impact of climate change on people’s mental health and well-being. Parents residing in
highly polluted cities are getting inclined towards wanting to keep their children indoors, as
they know no alternative way to protect their children.
Eco-anxiety is adding to childhood and teen inactivity in north India and leading to increased
physical isolation, obesity and over-dependence on social media and digital devices
(Sharma, S. 2019). If people worry about climate change, it means that they care about the
environment and the life of our future generations. Taking some action towards resolving
environmental issues can help them in reducing their anxiety. Adopting sustainable
environmental practices, urging other people to make greener choices, and volunteering for
environmental groups, can help lessen the feelings of helplessness and can make people
feel more in control. However, the environmental crisis cannot be dealt with only through
individual action and efforts, it requires government action and structural changes.
Therefore, strategies such as thought modification and cognitive restructuring can aid in
dealing with this anxiety, as people can learn to be more optimistic through reframing their
negative and fixated thought process. Connecting with other like-minded people who share
similar fears and seeking professional psychological help are other ways to cope with eco-
anxiety.

References

Basu, S. (2019), “Explained: What is eco- anxiety?”. The Hindu. Retrieved from-
https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/learning-about-eco-
anxiety/article29942900.ece

Huizen, J. (2019). “What to know about eco- anxiety”. Medical News Today. Retrieved from-
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327354
Klenert, D., Funke, F., Mattauch, L. et al. “Five Lessons from COVID-19 for Advancing Climate
Change Mitigation.” Environ Resource Econ 76, 751–778 (2020).
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10640-020-00453-w
Sharma, S. (2019). “HealthWise: Climate emergency fuelling eco-anxiety, despair”.
Hindustan Times. Retrieved from- https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/healthwise-
climate-emergency-fuelling-eco-anxiety-despair/story-GU0PrETuJ9xp42MBJHNc3N.html

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