As the effects of global warming and climate change become more evident, so does the impact on our physical and mental health.
According to a report by the American Psychological Association, climate change is a significant threat to public mental health and well-being. The report cites research showing that exposure to extreme weather events can lead to short- and long-term mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
In fact, a growing body of research shows a strong correlation between climate change and our deteriorating mental health.
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that exposure to extreme weather events can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. The study also found that people already struggling with mental health issues are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Another study published in the journal PLOS One found that people who live in areas affected by climate change are more likely to experience mental health problems. The study looked at data from over 30,000 people in the United States and found that those who lived in areas impacted by hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters were more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The effects of climate change on mental health are not just limited to those who experience extreme weather events.
According to the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, even small temperature changes can impact mental health. The study found that people who live in areas where the temperature has become warmer over time are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
We often think of climate change as an environmental issue. But it tends to have a significant impact on our mental well-being. For one thing, the anxiety and stress that comes from worrying about the planet’s future can take a toll on our emotional well-being.
There’s even a professional term for it: Eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety is a term used to describe the fear and worry people feel about the state of the environment. It is often characterized by a sense of powerlessness and helplessness and feelings of despair and sadness.
For many people, Eco-anxiety is rooted in a deep concern for the future of the planet. As climate change and other environmental problems become more severe, it’s often difficult to maintain hope for the future.
For some, Eco-anxiety manifests as a general feeling of anxiety or unease. For others, it can lead to more specific fears, such as a fear of flying due to the emissions from airplanes or a fear of crowds due to the increased risk of transmission of diseases.
Whatever form it takes, Eco-anxiety can be a debilitating condition that makes it difficult to live a normal life.
Extreme weather events
Mental trauma also comes from extreme weather events.
According to the National Weather Service, an extreme weather event is “a severe or unseasonal storm, such as a tornado, thunderstorm, blizzard, typhoon, hurricane, heat wave, drought, or cold snap.”
In recent years, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events across the globe. And while the physical impacts of these events are well-documented, the mental health effects are often overlooked.
Studies have shown that exposure to extreme weather can lead to various mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse.
The effects are often most pronounced in those who have already experienced trauma or lack social support. In addition, extreme weather can exacerbate existing mental health conditions. For example, people with anxiety may be more likely to experience panic attacks during periods of intense heat or storms.
Moreover, climate change can damage our physical health, which in turn can negatively affect our mental state.
The impact of climate change on our health is immediate and direct. Heat waves, floods, and wildfires make it difficult for us to breathe. They increase the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses. They expose us to toxic chemicals and harmful pollutants.
The effects of climate change are also cumulative, meaning they add up over time. For instance, have you noticed that landfills tend to expand, leading to more pollution as toxic waste seeps into the ground?
This can lead to chronic stress and anxiety and trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions such as stress, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In other words, climate change is not just an environmental issue – it’s a public health issue we must address.
The Silver Lining
Unfortunately, those feelings are likely to stick around for a while. According to the National Safety Council, 65% of adults in the U.S. say they frequently or sometimes lie awake at night due to worry about climate change.
And nearly one in four say they have experienced anxiety attacks or symptoms related to anxiety because of climate change. For many people, these feelings are compounded by a sense of powerlessness and isolation.
The good news is that you’re not alone and can do something about it.
You can take proactive steps to protect your health from the effects of climate change. Stay cool during heat waves by staying hydrated and avoiding strenuous activity. Stay informed about air quality alerts and take steps to reduce pollution in your home and community.
Here are a few more things that might help address your anxiety and find support from others struggling with similar feelings.
- Talk about your feelings candidly with someone you trust. It can be beneficial to share your anxiety with someone who understands and provides support. If you don’t have anyone in your personal life with whom you feel comfortable talking about this issue, there are plenty of online communities full of people who get it.
- Focus on taking care of yourself. This is a stressful time for everyone, so prioritize your physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, and take breaks when necessary.
- Do something to make a difference. It’s easy to feel like there’s nothing we can do to stop climate change, but that’s simply not true. There are lots of small things we can all do that will have a significant impact if we all do them together. So find an activity that works for you—recycling more, composting, driving less, or eating less meat—and commit to doing it regularly.
An APA report also highlights the importance of community support in helping people cope with the mental health effects of climate change. Creating social networks and providing access to resources can help people understand, process, and manage their emotions and give them a sense of belonging and connection.
Climate change is affecting us all—mentally and emotionally as well as physically. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression related to climate change, know that you’re not alone and there are things you can do to help yourself feel better.
Talk to someone you trust about your feelings, focus on taking care of yourself, and do something to make a difference however you can.
Cover Image Source: Aarón Blanco (Unsplash)