The Reality of Climate Anxiety
Updated: Feb 9
People are talking about their issues with anxiety more and more. It’s about time. I had severe anxiety when I went away to University in 2001. It took me completely by surprise. I had no idea what I was experiencing. I never heard anyone talk about that kind of thing. No one warned me that a big life change could trigger it. I couldn’t deal with it and ended up getting a medical withdrawal. Now, I’m hoping that young people have heard enough about anxiety to recognise it when it happens and promptly get help.
Why are we talking about anxiety more today? Is it just more acceptable or do we have more to be anxious about? I think it’s probably a combination of both.
Student debt is crushing and getting into it doesn’t even mean you’ll get an entry-level job in your chosen field. Nevermind the fact that wages are not increasing with the cost of housing, goods, and services. Things are hard and far too many young people are taking their lives as a result.
Anxiety disorder is a type of mental illness. While the American Psychological Association made a 69-page guide to assist health care providers to treat those with eco- or climate anxiety, they do not classify it as a mental illness. Why? Well, imagine this. You are walking down a deserted street at night. Out pops a man with a knife in front of you. Your heart races, your breath quickens, your vision narrows. Do you have a mental illness? Of course not. It’s a normal response. Same with climate anxiety. The uncertainty we live in right now is absolutely terrifying.
What we are feeling is a response to a very real threat to our personal safety. What’s worse, we have very little control over it as an individual. Sure, we can do our part and act green. But at the same time, we have to sit back and watch as those with the power and influence to make real changes continue to do the wrong thing for our future time and time again. We wonder why we should make sacrifices to our meagre existence for only a drop in the ocean. It’s disheartening.
So is climate anxiety a real thing? Absolutely. But it is not a disorder or illness. We know the danger that exists and our brains are acting the way brains act in times of danger. Maybe it’s not as productive as the response we get with the man holding the knife. Getting our bodies ready to react and run from climate change is fruitless. But that energy needs to go somewhere. Use it to fight.
Doing your individual part is small, but you’re not in this alone. Plenty of people are making changes. Flying less, cutting back on meat, having fewer children are some big ones. Don’t keep it to yourself though. Talk to people about it, join an activist group, get out and protest. Harass those with power. Vote. Don’t let yourself feel hopeless about the future. You might be a drop in the ocean but together with other drops, we can make a Tsunami.