Devastating bush fires, floods, wildfires, intense heatwaves are some of the tangible impacts of climate change that the world is witnessing over time. The IPCC sixth Assessment Report, 2021, has confirmed that the climate is changing primarily due to human-induced activities such as burning fossil fuels, dumping wastes, the inability to achieve sustainability, and many such activities harming the planet’s ecological balance.

Climate Change is a reality and threatens the future of the planet. The constant changing of the climate causes psychological impacts on the mental health of a human being triggering emotional distress, grief, loss, frustration. According to a survey conducted in 2018 in the United States, almost 70% of the people are worried about climate change, and nearly 51% feel ‘helpless’ about it. This feeling of helplessness and distress is termed as “ANXIETY”.

ANXIETY arising from the awareness of the rising risk of extreme weather events, fear for the generations to come, and feeling helpless for not doing anything about it is called “ECO-ANXIETY“. Coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2005, eco-anxiety refers to the existential pain experienced when one resides in an area subject to environmental degradation.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) in the year 2017 described eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. Eco-fear is a commonly used term in literature and research to describe increased emotional, mental and Somatic Distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system. Psychologists and psychiatrists are observing a growing number of people who feel stressed by the environment. Hopelessness and fatalism are on the rise, and reports suggest that climate change, natural disasters and environmental catastrophes contribute to mental illness such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, aggression, violence, suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and more. Mental health studies in Greenland and Australia have revealed a surge in people reporting climate-related stress and depression.

Understanding the current state, many physicians still believe that eco-anxiety is not similar to clinical anxiety, though the fear that worsening of climate may trigger mental health issues. Even though eco-anxiety is not considered to be a clinical anxiety disorder, some interesting facts emerge:

In the year 2019, the Australian Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association and the Doctors for Environment Australia officially recognized climate change as a medical health emergency and confirmed that climate change is real and is happening. These medical associations further added that the impact of climate change would be felt tangibly across the world, leaving a lasting impact on the mental of the people globally.

Additionally, the fact that harsh impacts of climate change are being felt got verified by a report by Millenium Kids Inc and the University of Western Australia in 2019, which concluded that nearly 89% of the young people in the bracket of 7-25 years are concerned by the effects of climate change.

In addition to the above, it is not very comforting to know that 70% more adults between 18 and 24 years were worried about climate change in 2020 than in 2019. Also, 87% of the Australian tweens considered climate change as something to act upon in 2018. 57% of the American teenagers reported feeling afraid of climate change in 2020, with 52% feeling angry-both the rates being higher than the percentages in American Adults.

The above statistics about eco-anxiety prove to be a potential threat to the human mind and confirm that climate changes and their impacts influence human psychology. So, what are the symptoms of an eco-anxious human?

There is no one symptom to understand that a person suffers from eco-anxiety. Apart from common symptoms like hopelessness, sorrow, grief, other potential symptoms are:

1. Fatalistic thinking

Being fatalistic means that whatever is going to happen cannot be changed. It involves many negative thoughts and leaves a person feeling pessimistic about climate change, leading to all sorts of negative thoughts in a person’s mind.

2. Existential Dread

A feeling of anxiety from those fears that are just living upon us, and we are not aware of them. For example: what would happen if we get wiped out by an asteroid, pandemic, life transition etc.

3. Guilt regarding the increase in carbon footprint and not being able to do anything about it.

4. Obsessive thoughts about climate and an urge to take action to do something about it

5. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

The disorder can happen to a person after experiencing a traumatic event that can make them feel shocked/ fearful/ helpless). For example, wars, earthquakes, tsunami, pandemic

There can be other symptoms as well, but they can vary from one individual to another. Such symptoms can lead to Sleep Disorders, Loss of Appetite and Loss of Concentration, further adding to the miseries of an already disturbed mindset. These symptoms can further vary based on the factors that drive eco-anxiety. Such driving factors are:

· Live Experience

Listeninabout an experience is one thing, and experiencing the same first-hand is another thing. When someone experiences a natural calamity, it affects that person’s psychology, thereby making him/her vulnerable towards life and developing a feeling of fear or grief.

· Extensive news coverage

Extensive media coverage on how the global GHG emissions are increasing and disturbing the overall ecological balance of the planet slowly affects the psychology of a human being. Additionally, volcanoes, tornados, cyclones, wildfires, and many such natural phenomena affect various parts of the world adds to the already existing feeling of grief and fear in a human being’s mind.

· Regretting one’s carbon footprint

We all are aware of the carbon footprint of human beings on the planet and the harsh impacts that the world is facing due to climate change. Another factor that drives anxiety is the guilt and the state of sorry that one experiences due to one’s contribution to the carbon footprint.

There could be many such factors that drive anxiety in a human being that may depend on the individual lifestyle, social factors and the geographical locations that one is exposed to and beyond its control.

The above facts and statistics and the frequent occurrence of natural disasters leave a lasting impact on the human mind and bring anxiety to one’s mind. Although it is difficult to control fear and grief, some measures can be adapted to control such feelings. Amongst many, the most important is to open up and talk about what one is feeling. Opening up to what one feels makes us comfortable and more relaxed, preparing ourselves better for the future. Furthermore, talking about one’s own experience validates distress, and we can connect ourselves with many like-minded people. The entire process can become a platform to discuss the problems, the potential solutions which ultimately can help many such people in distress.

Another measure that can be adopted is reducing one’s carbon footprint. Reducing carbon footprint by reducing wastage, conserving water, adapting to a sustainable lifestyle, consuming organic food, and many such initiatives can be adapted. These practices create a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that we are doing our bit. It further boosts confidence to discuss the practices adopted by an individual and guide to adapt to similar footsteps.

Being under challenging times lets us help a loved one; the same can be a practice towards embracing nature when it is in its most formidable hour of sustainability. Taking steps to conserve local nature and educating others to embrace nature and help nurture it.

Along with the steps mentioned above, measures like meditating and taking professional help may help reduce anxiety. Though it might prove beneficial, talking to an expert might reduce the distress significantly and improve the functioning of day-to-day life.

There could be medicines to reduce the stress, entertainment activities to indulge in, adapting a hobby or a sport and many such ideas to divert the mind and reduce anxiety. Having said all this, it is an individual’s personal choice as to how to deal with the anxiety and overcome it.

The above discussion concludes that there is anxiety about the environment, and changing climate is a significant issue. However, the fact remains that it is not something that has been formally researched yet though we know it is a vital issue for children and teenagers, and it is changing the way adults vote that eco-anxiety is a crucial issue that must be discussed and researched upon extensively. Despite the common belief that eco-anxiety is not a clinical issue, it is certainly part of human’s mental health in the present scenario and we need to keep abreast of the issues impacting peoples’ lives as a whole to support them best.

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