If you are constantly worried about the state of our planet and starting to feel pretty hopeless about anything changing, it is likely that you are experiencing eco-anxiety along with a touch of existential dread. And a little bit of climate change therapy might be just what you (and the world-at-large), needs for the human species to survive.
I provide a lot of climate change therapy in my practice, but I wasn’t planning to write about it today. However, 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 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 you face reality, you choose to look away and feel nothing. You keep yourself safe from your 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 you experience when you are faced with some kind of threat to your survival. Sometimes that threat isn’t as serious as you think, but oftentimes, it isn’t.
Which is why I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with having anxiety about the state of our environment.
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 you can have when you 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.
However, those feelings are telling you something:
- The anger might be telling you that you don’t want this to be happening.
- The powerlessness is telling you that you wish there was something I could do.
- And perhaps the despair is telling you that you care deeply. That you are inextricably connected to every single living creature that exists on our planet.
And when you are aware of these feelings, you can use them as a guide.
- You can use the anger as fuel to make things right.
- You can use the powerlessness to remind you of what is within your control.
- And you can use the despair to remind yourself of what’s important. To direct your 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.
Just like therapy, 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 eco-anxiety, 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.
- If the anxiety you feel is constant, becoming overwhelming, or impacting your daily functioning, there are ways to cope.
- And remember, one of the best antidotes to helplessness 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 hopeless, talk to a therapist!
You can also check out this video on overcoming anxiety holistically. I go over the 3 tools that my clients say have helped them the most – one for the mind, one for the body, and one for the spirit.
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?