I wasn’t planning to write about climate change anxiety today. But after watching Don’t Look Up, I feel like I have no other choice. I thought it was an incredibly powerful film. And since watching it, I’ve found myself reflecting much more deeply about my/our/every living creature on this planet, and what it means for us to be here in the first place.
But the film has me thinking about more than just climate change and existentialism. I’m also thinking about the very human tendency to avoid uncomfortable emotions, and how that can lead to much greater consequences in the long run.
Climate change is very real, as is climate change anxiety. The truth is, many of us (myself included) behave in the same manner that those in the film do. We are aware of what’s happening to the environment, we want things to change, yet we “don’t look up,” as often as we should, because it’s just too damn depressing. Not to mention, terrifying.
We simply don’t feel like feeling those feelings!
Which is why many of us go into anxious avoidant mode. This is a coping mechanism you might adopt when you subconsciously suppress or avoid your feelings around a harsh truth, because it’s too overwhelming to confront it. Whether it’s your sexual preferences, your credit card balance, or your inevitable mortality.
So instead of feeling the anxiety and fear that comes up when we face reality, we choose to look away and feel nothing. We keep ourselves safe from our feelings, without taking into account the potential consequences of doing so.
It’s important to remember: ANXIETY IS NATURAL! It is a normal, adaptive response that humans experience when we are faced with some kind of threat to our survival. Sometimes that threat isn’t as serious as we think, and sometimes it is.
Which is why I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with having anxiety about climate change (AKA ecoanxiety). There is scientific evidence that climate change is a real, ongoing threat to our survival, as well as the survival of all living species on the planet.
In fact, I think that the anxiety you feel about climate change can be a good thing. It means your body is working to protect you. It’s sensing a threat, and is trying to tell you to do something so you and everyone you know and humankind for generations to come will be able to survive on this planet!
Of course, anxiety isn’t the only reaction we have when we are faced with the reality of what climate change is doing to our world. I know for me, when I actually think about it, I experience feelings of anger, powerlessness, and downright despair.
But just like anxiety, those feelings are telling me something:
- The anger is telling me that I don’t want this to be happening.
- The powerlessness is telling me that I wish there was something I could do.
- The despair is telling me that I care deeply. That I’m inextricably connected to every single living creature that exists on our planet.
And when I’m aware of these feelings, I can use them to guide me.
- I can use the anger as fuel to make things right.
- I can use the powerlessness to remind me of what I might have within my control.
- And I can use the despair to remind myself of what’s important. To direct my energy towards what truly matters. And to make more mindful choices by being aware of how they impact the world and those living in it.
This is one of those posts that doesn’t really have any easy answers. But here is what I’ll say about climate change anxiety:
- When it comes to ecoanxiety, your feelings and your worries are 100% valid. There is a lot of uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen. And it’s really scary.
- If you’re anything like me, and can’t look at a picture of a polar bear without crying, let yourself cry. Feel it. Those feelings aren’t bad – they’re meaningful. They’re connecting you to something greater than yourself.
- And remember, one of the best antidotes to feeling helpless about a situation like climate change is taking action. Donate. Research. Vote. Do what is within your power. Start now.
Talk to friends. Talk to family. And of course, if your anxieties and fears about climate change are getting in the way of you living your life, or causing you to feel like there is no point anyway, talk to a therapist!
Imagine if we all allowed ourselves to really feel the anxiety we have around climate change. Yes, there would probably be many more sleepless nights, more crying spells, and more panic attacks. But my hope is that there would also be an adoption of healthier coping skills, a collective shift in values, and more action being taken to protect our environment. And that is the kind of world I want to be living in.
Have you seen Don’t Look Up? And if so, what came up for you as you watched it?