Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Rise of ‘Eco-Anxiety’: How Climate Change Is Impacting Mental Health in the UK

The Rise of ‘Eco-Anxiety’: How Climate Change Is Impacting Mental Health in the UK

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Have you felt overwhelmed by the impact of climate change? It’s causing distress and anxiety across the UK among those who are worried about the planet. We’ll be taking a closer look at the various factors that contribute to “eco anxiety”, the signs to look out for, and how it affects the mental well-being of Brits.

What is eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety is a term used to describe an individual’s mental state when they experience intense feelings of worry, fear, or sadness about the state of the planet and its wellbeing. Concerns about the environment, such as the impact of climate change and other ecological challenges, can cause significant psychological distress in the sufferer. This can often result in an overwhelming sense of existential threat and a sense of powerlessness.

The causes of eco-anxiety

Eco-anxiety is triggered by distress at the impacts of climate change that we witness every day, in person or in the media. Extreme weather events are more common, global temperatures are noticeably rising, deforestation and biodiversity loss are happening in front of our eyes, and it can create a sense of impending doom. Recognising the emotional toll that climate change can have on us and our communities and taking steps to address these concerns can make a big difference.

Impact on mental health in the UK

The effects of climate change are becoming more apparent in the UK, and this is having a significant impact on mental health. Eco-anxiety is a growing concern among many individuals, studies have shown that it can have a negative impact on mental health and well-being. It’s important to recognise that the constant concern and apprehension surrounding the state of the environment can have a significant impact on our mental health. This can manifest in the form of anxiety disorders, depression, and other related conditions.

Eco-anxiety manifests itself differently in individuals, but some common symptoms and alleviation techniques include:

Symptoms of eco-anxiety

Symptoms

Alleviation Techniques

Persistent worry and fear

Engaging in positive environmental actions

Feelings of powerlessness

Seeking support from like-minded communities

Sleep disturbances

Practicing relaxation techniques, such as meditation

Changes in appetite

Focusing on self-care and healthy coping mechanisms

Difficulty concentrating

Limiting exposure to distressing news and social media

Physical symptoms of anxiety

Regular exercise and physical activity

The need for mental health support

Pre-pandemic, the UK was already unable to supply those with mental health struggles with adequate support. Since the end of lockdown, unsurprisingly, the situation hasn’t improved. Owen Smith, a specialist in remote training for counsellors with the Association of Learning, says that for many individuals, access to mental health support is out of reach due to a shortage of available professionals.

He tells Psychreg: “We’ve been trying to make it a more streamlined process for people to become counsellors, to try and meet the demand. There just aren’t enough mental health professionals to support the needs of the public. There’s many people who are “counsellors” in their everyday lives, usually for their friends and family, who don’t realise they could make a difference and get paid for it.”

Owen suggests that undertaking an online counselling course can be a low-risk first step for such people to start their journey to becoming a counsellor.

Bridging the gap: tips to address eco-anxiety

It’s impossible to escape the realities of climate change, so it’s understandable that this would affect your mental health. If you take proactive approaches to combat its effects, it can help you cope better.

23% of mental health patients in the UK wait over three months to start treatment. Luckily, there are some ways to try and alleviate eco-anxiety on your own, without medical supervision.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Stay informed, but set boundaries. Knowing when to set boundaries and take breaks for your health is crucial. We’re always bombarded with depressing news and social media. For anxious people, this can be harmful. Mindful content consumption and mental health protection are crucial. For mental wellness, set aside time to learn and rest.
  • Engage in positive environmental actions. Doing anything, albeit tiny, empowers us and helps the environment. This reduces anxiety and boosts self-esteem. There are various methods to make a difference, including lowering our carbon footprint, volunteering for environmental organisations, and campaigning for policy changes.
  • Seek support from like-minded communities. Sharing problems with others can be reassuring and empowering. Find like-minded communities online and offline to discuss, share, and get assistance. You may share coping skills, receive comfort, and make a difference.
  • Practise self-care and healthy coping mechanisms. Prioritising self-care is essential for managing eco-anxiety. Nurture healthy coping mechanisms like journaling, deep breathing exercises, or seeking therapy to process emotions and develop resilience.
  • Connect with nature. Spending time in nature can have a profound positive impact on mental health. Whether it’s going for a walk in the park, hiking in the countryside, or simply sitting in a garden, immersing yourself in the natural world can provide a much-needed respite from eco-anxiety.

Takeaway

Eco-anxiety is a tangible consequence of the climate crisis, affecting the mental well-being of individuals in the UK and beyond. By acknowledging its existence, understanding its causes and symptoms, and taking proactive measures to alleviate its effects, we can foster resilience and promote positive change. Let’s work together to ensure that mental health support for eco-anxiety becomes a priority, empowering individuals to navigate their anxieties and build a more sustainable and mentally healthy future.


David Radar, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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