7 ways to navigate climate change & eco-anxiety

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Kids Help Phone knows young people across Canada are experiencing the effects of climate change, including eco-anxiety. Climate change may be on your mind as you learn about it from the news, friends, classmates, family / community members, teachers, social media and elsewhere. You may also be experiencing direct impacts if you’re living in an area facing extreme weather / environmental crises (e.g. wildfires, floods, poor air quality, etc.). On this page, you can learn about ways to cope with climate change / eco-anxiety, however they may be affecting you, and possibly take climate action. Throughout this story, you can also explore quotes about climate change, eco-anxiety and more from members of the National Youth Council (NYC) at Kids Help Phone as a reminder you’re not alone.

If you need support right now, Kids Help Phone’s free, confidential and bilingual e-mental health services are open across Canada 24/7. Our professional phone counselling service is also offered in over 100 languages including Plains Cree, Severn Ojibwe, Ukrainian, Russian, Pashto, Dari, Mandarin and Arabic with the help of trained interpreters. If you’re in immediate danger, emergency / community services are available across Canada, too. Mobile crisis support and other community services are also available in some areas. You can use Resources Around Me to find what’s best for you and available nearest your location.

What is climate change?

Climate change describes shifts in the Earth’s weather patterns that can harm the planet and living creatures, including plants, animals and humans. Large-scale acts such as burning fossil fuels (e.g. coal, oil, gas, etc.), cutting down trees and more can contribute to climate change. These activities can release extra heat-trapping gases into the air and make the Earth’s temperature go up.

When the Earth gets warmer, big changes such as melting ice, rising sea levels and more extreme weather (e.g. stronger storms, wildfires, etc.) can happen. These changes can become issues when they harm the environment and everything that relies on it.

The lands, waters and wildlife in Canada can play an important role in people’s mental health and well-being. For some folks, thinking about the future and the effects of global warming (definition from the Government of Canada) on the planet can feel overwhelming at times. You may find yourself wondering, “What’s my place in the world?” and / or if there’s anything you can do to help the planet. If you experience distress, anxiety, hopelessness, guilt, anger, grief, etc. when thinking about the impacts of climate change, you’re not alone. And if you experience a mix of emotions, that’s OK too. Climate change is complicated and so are the feelings that can come with it.

What is eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety is a reflection of a person’s connection to the environment. It’s the worry you may feel when thinking about the uncertainty of the future (and the planet) because of climate change.

Anxiety is the body’s response to perceived threats (i.e. humans’ survival instinct). With eco-anxiety, climate change is the threat. The anxiety you may be feeling in relation to climate change may be your body’s way of motivating you to survive, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

Other terms related to eco-anxiety include:

  • eco-paralysis (a response to feeling like there’s nothing you can do to help address climate change)
  • ecological grief (a reaction to loss in the environment and changes to landscapes that provide people with meaning)
  • eco-distress (a catch-all term describing the many possible feelings about / responses to climate change)

If you’re experiencing eco-anxiety, you might notice worried thoughts such as, “There’s no hope for the planet,” “Will my kids have a place to grow up?” and / or “It’s too late and there’s nothing I can do to help now.”

Other signs you might be experiencing eco-anxiety can include:

  • anger / frustration toward folks who deny / ignore climate change
  • existential dread (i.e. distressing thoughts / feelings about the meaning of life and your place in the world that often start when you’re unsure about how to move forward, are worried about the state of the world or have experienced a major transition)
  • guilt / shame over past actions that may have impacted the climate
  • post-traumatic stress after experiencing direct effects of climate change (e.g. leaving your home due to a wildfire, etc.)
  • depression
  • panic
  • grief / sadness when thinking about lost / harmed natural environments / wildlife
  • frequent thoughts about the world’s climate
  • trouble sleeping
  • changes in appetite
  • difficulty concentrating
  • tension in relationships (particularly if you hold different views on climate change)
  • other effects of eco-anxiety (info from Anxiety Canada) in your daily life

I have experienced eco-anxiety, and in my experience that is worrying about what life on planet Earth will look like for future generations. To deal with eco-anxiety, I try my best to implement the Three Rs (reducing, reusing, and recycling) into my daily life.

— Fazayl (she / her), 2023 NYC member

Are you experiencing distress from wildfires in Canada? Kids Help Phone offers e-mental health support, 24/7. Visit resource.

I think I’m experiencing eco-anxiety. What can I do?

You can explore the seven tips below to help you navigate climate change / eco-anxiety and find ways to support yourself (and maybe even the planet!).

Tip #1: Identify your feelings about climate change

To start, you can check in with yourself to understand what climate change may be bringing up for you. Taking some time to assess your thoughts and feelings can help support your mental health and help you decide on what to do next to care for yourself. You can:

  • take a self-assessment to reflect on your feelings and discover resources that may be most helpful to you
  • try journaling to give yourself space and a structure to record your thought patterns and emotions (the below reflection questions may help you get started):
    • How does thinking about the environment and climate change affect your daily life and emotions?
    • What personal actions or changes have you made to address climate change, and how do they make you feel?
    • Who or what inspires you to stay hopeful and engaged in environmental issues?
  • practise self-awareness to pause on key moments / events as you learn more about how you think about the world and how you fit into it

Tip #2: Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness can be a way to help take your mind off distressing thoughts and ground yourself in the present moment. Some mindfulness practices you might consider trying include:

Tip #3: Express your emotions

Finding a place for your feelings to go instead of keeping them in may help you process them and be more prepared to take care of yourself. Ways you can Feel Out Loud might include:

  • dancing
  • crafting
  • making music
  • talking to someone you trust
  • reflecting on your own in private
  • crying
  • writing about how you’re feeling
  • connecting with an Elder

Tip #4: Discover ways to take climate action

Taking action to address climate change in whatever ways fit for you can help support both the planet and your mental health as you move from processing your feelings of eco-anxiety into managing them. Rather than trying to do everything, deciding on one or two climate actions can be a place to start. It can also be helpful to remember that many people (including experts) are working on ways to address climate change, too. Here are some ideas you might consider trying:

  • turn off the lights when you leave a room
  • start / join a recycling program wherever you can (e.g. at your school, in your community, etc.)
  • invest in reusable products / reduce plastic waste
  • contact a government representative and share your thoughts
  • volunteer with a climate advocacy group
  • plant a garden wherever you can (e.g. at home, in your community, etc.)
  • share facts / tips from environmental leaders with your network(s)
  • check in with the people you care about on how they’re feeling about climate change
  • participate in community cleanups

It can be overwhelming to hear about, witness, or experience climate change, and feel unsure about what you can do. To cope with climate anxiety, I try to focus on the changes I can make in my life such as reducing my use of electricity or switching to reusable products. I also try to engage in conversations about climate change with other youth to hear their perspectives.

Anjana (she / her), 2023 NYC member

Tip #5: Research leaders, influential people and organizations discussing climate change

You can explore the following people and resources for more information about climate change, wellness, taking climate action and ways to get involved:

Kids Help Phone encourages you to keep in mind not everyone online who discusses climate change is necessarily an expert. It may be helpful to consider the source of the information you’re engaging with and investigate a range of resources by a variety of contributors.

Youth activists give me hope! It makes me so reassured that our generation is actively advocating for their future.

Sanjeevani (she / her), 2023 NYC member

Tip #6: Practise self-care

Coping with the effects of climate change, particularly eco-anxiety, and being an advocate for the planet can bring up many emotions. Finding a balance between activism and self-care can help you support your mental health and well-being. Giving yourself space to take a break and focus on other things that are meaningful to you can help with this balance. Things you can try include:

Tip #7: Connect for more support as needed

Connecting with others if / when you need help (or just someone to talk to) can help you find new ways of thinking, feel comfort and get inspired. Here are a few people and places you might consider for more support:

  • connect with your community(s) / network(s) to discuss how you’re feeling, ways to get help and ideas for taking climate action together
  • search Resources Around Me for programs and services that may be available nearest your community, such as health, housing and advocacy supports
  • visit the Peer-to-Peer Community at Kids Help Phone to explore experiences / join forums with other youth in Canada

I find comfort in volunteering for climate action initiatives such as my school’s eco club and volunteering at local conservancies. I find that when the initiatives are locally based I can see the impact and know that I am making a difference.

Rukshika (she / her), 2023 NYC member

If you’re worried about climate change / experiencing eco-anxiety, there are things you can do to prioritize your wellbeing and take climate action. If you’d like to give your feelings a place to go, you can contact Kids Help Phone’s free, 24/7, confidential and bilingual e-mental health support services.

Kids Help Phone would like to thank the NYC for their participation in this story, demonstrating ways to Feel Out Loud and supporting youth mental health and well-being across Canada!