How to Calm Your Climate Anxiety

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Three years ago, after the Woolsey Fire, 53-year-old Greg Kochanowski returned to the Santa Monica Mountains and unknowingly walked past his own street.

The most devastating wildfire in Los Angeles County history tore apart the Seminole Springs neighborhood and burned more than half of the homes in the area, including hers. What remained was the “moonscape,” he said – ash and coal, black and gray.

Losing your home was traumatic. But being disorientated in his own neighborhood “frightened him to hell,” Mr. Kochanowski recalled, triggering new existential concerns about climate change.

Now she suffers for the future of her 14-year-old daughter. “What kind of world will Ava grow up in?” said. “Will Southern California be uninhabitable at my age?”

Mr. Kochanowski’s sense of fear fits a host of emotions, a term often referred to as climate anxiety, which includes anger, anxiety, and insecurity that stems from awareness of a warming planet.

“I actually think a lot of people have experienced this quietly and privately for several years,” said climate psychologist Renee Lertzman. consultant to businesses and nonprofits. But “the conversation is no longer marginal. It really exploded.”

Increasing evidence that climate change threatens mental health according to a recent report From the Institute for Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, Dr. Higher temperatures depend on: depressed language and higher suicide rates. Fires, hurricanes and heat waves carry the risk of trauma and depression.

Trevor Riggen, who runs the group’s local disaster programs, said gradual climate-related disasters forced American Red Cross volunteers to stay in the field for months instead of weeks. He noted that due to climate change, the Red Cross has shifted from focusing on immediate trauma to “this more chronic condition that requires a different mental health intervention or spiritual care.”

young people, especially report feeling weak climate anxiety and disappointment by older generations. “They try to understand, but they don’t,” said Adah Crandall, 16, a climate and anti-highway activist in Portland, Oregon. “I fear for my future because of the inaction of adults in the past.”

When the humidity drops today, Mr. Kochanowski sees the worry on his neighbors’ faces. Warm days are spread over the greater part of the year, and humid, cool mornings are rare. Sometimes, he wonders if they should continue.

“You become aware of larger forces that are always beyond your control,” he said. “This level of realization makes you feel a little helpless.”

Andi Poland, 49, a tech recruiter living near Denver, said she also experiences anxiety, grief and fear about a warmer planet. “I’m glad I’m not enough for this world,” he said. “I think I have a third of my life left. I’m just not sorry that I have so much time.”

But experts say these dark emotions can also be the basis for empowerment and progress. writing In The Lancet, researchers recently argued that climate anxiety “may be a crucible that humanity must cross to harness the energy and faith needed for the life-saving changes that are now needed.”

According to Merritt Juliano, a therapist in rural Maryland, anxiety is a rational response to the increasing risks of climate change. Climate Psychology Alliance North America. But we should not hide from it or ignore it.

“Our feelings are not something to be resolved,” Ms Juliano said. Instead of eliminating climate concerns, people need to identify them and understand that they are there for a reason. “Embracing them makes us so much stronger.”

In a survey of 1,000 people by the American Psychiatric Association, more than half said they were worried About the impact of climate change on mental health. You don’t have to survive a hurricane to experience climate anxiety, said Britt Wray, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University who studies the effects of climate change on mental health. Experiencing a longer mosquito season in Pennsylvania, seeing orcas disappear from Puget Sound, or reading about the catastrophic flooding in Germany can trigger a deeper emotional response to the changing climate.

Dr. “Whatever our situation, whatever our life experience, we can all reach out and touch it at arm’s length,” Wray said.

As the pandemic has made clearDr. The isolation that occurs when people don’t talk about anxiety can lead to depression, Lertzman said.

informal meetings called climate cafes throughout country and worldaims to bring people together to share their feelings and reactions to the climate crisis. Other groups connect the community with action.

non-profit Good Grief Network It offers support for climate distress through a 10-step process introduced at weekly meetings that culminates in a commitment to “reinvest in meaningful efforts.”

The 43-year-old artist Bradley Pitts says his feelings about the climate gave him “an opportunity to make decisions differently.” After attending Good Grief meetings, he and his wife changed their personal preferences towards adapting to and mitigating climate change. They bought an old commercial farm outside of New York and decided to return it to meadows and woodlands.

“Sitting in between is no longer an option,” Pitts said after accounting for climate anxiety.

“We don’t see any single approach as a silver bullet” to climate anxiety and inaction, said Sarah Jornsay-Silverberg, executive director of the Good Grief Network. Instead, the goal is to do small or big things that mean something to you and reflect the inner change in your perspective.

For example, people often associate energy efficiency with turning off the lights, but the only use of a tumble dryer uses as much electricity It’s like running a standard LED bulb for 13 days.

ReWild Long Island promotes biologically diverse alternatives to traditional grass, which volunteer Charlie Sacha calls “America’s biggest and most wasteful crop.” Ms. Sacha, 17, is a senior at Manhasset High; She said she had her first anxiety attack in 2018 after reading about greenhouse pollution. 45% reduction by 2030 to avoid a dangerous 2.7 degree warming.

“I don’t have that much power to do things on a major global level,” he said. “But you can literally make a change in your own backyard.”

Some people are local”don’t buy anythinggroups to minimize the heavy carbon footprint of shipped purchases. Others work to get climate-sensitive politicians elected.

ISeeChange, a community climate and weather platform, encourages volunteers to record observations of local change online. In New Orleans, participants collect stormwater data to show flood effects outside of expected patterns. As a result, local officials redirected nearly $5 million in federal funds to build a larger stormwater storage tank in a low-income neighborhood.

Dr. What fuels your anxiety – your imagination – can also be your most powerful tool for overcoming it, Wray said.

In California, Mr. Kochanowski said the Woolsey Fire and the ensuing anxiety reshaped his work. The landscape architect is setting up what he calls a research lab. promotion building and design adapted to the more radical climate.

Mr. Kochanowski knows that fire is essential for the oak woods and chaparrals of his home – in the past two decades fire has forced his family to evacuate three times. But they love their neighborhood and believe they can help adapt it to a new climate reality.

They rebuilt using fireproof materials and sustainable defensible space. And next to their new home they planted a flowering tipu tree that can spread a canopy in just a few years. “The idea was, we’re not going to be defeated by this thing,” he said.


Molly Peterson is a Los Angeles-based investigative journalist focusing on the intersections of climate, disaster and public health.

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