‘Eco-anxiety’ on the rise as activist groups sound the alarm
More people are concerned about the environment than ever before, with multiple studies suggesting that ‘eco-anxiety’ is a real phenomenon being felt worldwide.
Described by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a “chronic fear of environmental doom”, eco-anxiety is said to conjure up emotions ranging from mild restlessness to shock and fear.
And these feelings are growing in prominence as scientists and activist groups form an alliance in sounding the alarm over the scale of the climate crisis.
YouGov polling has found that a record 27% of UK adults now believe the environment is one of the top three greatest issues facing their country, up from 17% in mid-April.
This surge in environmental concern coincided with April’s climate protests by Extinction Rebellion and a rise in media attention surrounding activist Greta Thunberg.
Meanwhile, a survey of 6,500 Australian women earlier this year found that nine in 10 were “extremely concerned” about climate change, with a third aged under 30 saying they were even reconsidering having children because of the crisis.
“We can say that a significant proportion of people are experiencing stress and worry about the potential impacts of climate change, and that the level of worry is almost certainly increasing,” said Susan Clayton, professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster.
Eco-anxiety has also been coined “climate change distress” and “ecological grief”, while the term ‘klimatångest’, literally meaning ‘climate angst’, has become well established in the Swedish language.
However, anxiety is thought to be a natural response to the prospect of environmental disaster, and further research has found that around half of Americans are still “hopeful” about tackling climate change.
The APA says individuals should not focus on feelings of helplessness, but instead look to support networks that help boost mental health and resilience to eco-anxiety.
Taking action in the community to actually reduce environmental damage, such as raising awareness about clean energy, is seen as one of the best solutions to feeling anxious.
“Discussing the co-benefits of clean energy with family and friends spreads the knowledge and facilitates change from the ground up,” the APA recommends.
“This proactive approach can help provide those who are concerned about climate change with some level of psychological ‘relief’ and a sense of accomplishment in helping others and the environment.”