Have you ever found yourself awake at night with the climate crisis whirring in your mind? If so, you’re not alone.
We’ve been there: Tired eyes wide open to the immensity of our planetary challenge. Grieving for what’s already been lost, and fearful of the losses to come. Outraged because we didn’t have to be here, hopeful because humanity could still choose a better path, and despairing because we’re not sure we will. Some nights, we’ve stayed up grappling with how to be of use, when even our best contributions can feel so small. The truth is, if you’re awake to the climate crisis during the day, finding yourself awake at night is a distinct possibility.
According to data Google provided to nonprofit climate newsroom Grist, searches for “climate anxiety” soared 565% between October 2020 and October 2021—a simple act that offers a profound glimpse into our collective psyche. A Sept. 27 report from the Yale Program for Climate Communication found that an all-time record 70% of Americans are now very or somewhat worried about climate change, with a significant increase after a summer in which the U.S. faced an onslaught of heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes.
For young people around the world, things feel especially dire, according to a Sept. 7 study published by The Lancet. Surveying 10,000 people aged 16-25 in 10 countries, the study’s researchers (of whom Britt was one) found that a majority felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty about climate change, with 84% at least moderately worried. Notably, the survey linked these feelings to government inaction on the climate crisis, with the researchers concluding that “these psychological stressors threaten health and wellbeing.”
In the face of all that, it’s crucial to remember that climate anxiety should not be dismissed as catastrophizing or overreacting. It’s a healthy response to an existential threat. Nor is action a cure in itself. As we can personally attest, people who work on climate every day still struggle with these feelings. With more people alert to the climate crisis and experiencing the emotional dominos that can follow, the need for resources and support is growing.
As more people turn their professional focus to climate change, we’d be wise to heed the words of social science researcher Susanne Moser: “burnt-out people aren’t equipped to serve a burning planet.” That means that coping, caring, and healing is an essential part of climate work too.
Here are seven resources to help navigate the emotional terrain of climate (a fuller list of resources can be found here). Some you can take up individually, while others are designed for groups. Whatever path you choose to engage with climate emotions—one of the below or something else entirely—remember that feeling your feelings matters. It takes courage to be awake to both destruction and possibility and to keep working together towards a life-giving future.
All We Can Save Circles
Caring about the climate crisis can be incredibly isolating, but it can also be a source of connection. Many people are hungry for deeper, more generous dialogue on the topic and for building community around solutions. Taking the bestselling anthology All We Can Save as a grounding and jumping off point, Katharine created All We Can Save Circles as a unique small-group approach for nurturing a sense of belonging, courage, and action. Anyone can sign up to start a Circle, using these simple, free facilitation materials.
Too often, we sit in silence with our difficult eco-emotions. Authentic conversations about how we’re feeling—in a space where those feelings are welcomed—can be comforting, empowering, and unleash creativity all at the same time. Sometimes you just need to express your climate feelings with other people who get it, and not much more is required. Activist and psychologist Margaret Klein Salamon created Climate Awakening as a series of ongoing sharing and listening sessions that anyone can drop into virtually.
If you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by the climate crisis, it might be a great time to seek out a climate-aware therapist. Whereas some therapists might pathologize or dismiss eco-distress, climate-aware therapists understand it as a natural and reasonable reaction to what is happening—a sign of one’s connection to and care for the world—and provide perspectives, tools, and techniques for coping with it. Starting places to find climate-aware mental health professionals include: the climate-aware therapist directory, the Climate Psychology Alliance in the United Kingdom and North America, the Climate Psychiatry Alliance, and Psychologists for Future.
Another helpful way to cope with climate emotions is to learn more about how they’re showing up in people’s lives. By taking in stories of how others are integrating these tough feelings into their lived experiences and harnessing them for deeper meaning and action, we come to feel less alone and perhaps inspired and energized. Eco-Anxious Stories serves as a welcoming and calming online realm, aimed at people who feel alone in their climate fears. It uses the power of story-exchange to relieve that sense of loneliness and offers a suite of reflection guides and resources.
Keeping up to date on the latest research about the psychological impacts of climate can also be useful and encouraging. Britt authors the newsletter Gen Dread, sharing nuanced perspectives on the emotional and psychological impacts of the climate crisis. It regularly explores tools for coping with eco-distress, the intersection of eco-anxiety and grief with social inequality, and new research and practices that are emerging from climate psychology and emotionally intelligent change-making.
Good Grief Network
The Good Grief Network (GGN) is an innovative peer support network for processing and integrating the uncertainty and grief that the climate and wider eco-crisis can awaken in people. Based on Alcoholics Anonymous, this group format moves participants through a 10-step program in which key topics are processed in a supportive setting. Volunteers can request facilitation packages and run their own GGN 10-step programs, though they are also regularly facilitated online via a donation-based format that anyone is welcome to sign up for.
The Work that Reconnects
Through workshops, retreats, and study groups, the Work that Reconnects (TWTR) is practiced around the world as a way to cultivate inner resilience, healing, and connection in collectively dark times that demand empowered action. Rooted in the teachings of renowned activist and author Joanna Macy, TWTR moves participants through a four-stage journey that brings them into close contact with climate emotions for personal transformation. The Evolving Edge is a branch of TWTR that is focused on decolonizing the practices of TWTR to better meet the needs of communities of color.
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