Climate change is taking a toll on youth mental health, according to Blue Shield of California’s second annual NextGen Youth Climate Survey, released today.
If you are feeling anxious about our warming planet, here are some tips for coping, developed by the See Change Institute – a nonprofit organization that studies and shapes the role of human behavior in social and environmental change – with support from our BlueSky youth mental health initiative.
“These are everyday actions that you or your child can take to help minimize the stress surrounding the effects of our warming planet,” says Larissa Dooley, Ph.D., a research psychologist at See Change Institute.
- Acknowledge your feelings: Take the time to acknowledge and honor your emotions. “Having difficult emotions about climate change is natural and warranted, and many people around the world share your feelings,” says Dooley.
- Use emotional coping tools: Initiate a practice, such as mindful meditation, breathwork or gratitude, to avoid being overwhelmed or debilitated by climate emotions.
- Connect with others: Engaging with others – especially those who are also coping with climate anxiety – can help you understand that you are not alone. “You can do this by initiating a conversation with someone you trust or join a support group (see “Resources” below) where you can discuss your emotions in a safe and supportive environment, hear others’ concerns and learn tools for managing intense emotions,” says Dooley. At the same time, be mindful of over-exposure to voices of hopelessness, despair or indifference.
- Connect with nature: Spending time in nature can calm our nervous systems, ease stress, and reduce rumination. Go for a hike, head for the park or take a swim. Remember that there is much beauty in the world to preserve and protect.
- Take action: Once you’ve held space for your emotions, taking meaningful action to combat climate change is one of the most powerful things you can do – with potential benefits not only for your mental health and wellbeing, but also for society as a whole. “Remember, activism can take many forms, from making lifestyle changes, to lobbying for more sustainable practices at work or school, to petitioning your representatives to pass climate policy and beyond. Be mindful to promote collaborative solutions with a peaceful approach,” says Dooley.
- Become climate justice aware: Cultivate an awareness of how the burden of pollution and environmental disasters falls disproportionately on communities of color, Indigenous people and low-income communities. Take the time to understand the issues surrounding the climate justice movement, identify your personal stance on these issues and resolve to become part of a just solution.
- Engage in self-care: Fear or concern about climate change can lead to stress and anxiety if not balanced with self-care. Take time for yourself by going for a walk, cooking a meal, taking a nap or engaging in any activity that triggers positive feelings and a sense of well-being. Climate change so often leaves us fretting about the future; remember to enjoy the present.
These tips, and more, are included in See Change Institute’s new report “Climate Change and Youth Mental Health: Psychological Impacts, Resilience Resources, and Future Directions,” which was funded by Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky youth mental health initiative. The report affirms Blue Shield’s recent NextGen Climate Survey, which shows eco-anxiety is increasingly widespread and is having an adverse effect on young people across the nation and globe.
Click here for more information on the See Change Institute.
For more on Blue Shield of California’s youth mental health initiative, BlueSky, click here.
Larissa Dooley, Ph.D., is a research psychologist at See Change Institute. Her current work focuses on the mental health impacts of climate change in young people and strategies for building emotional resilience.
Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky Initiative enhances access, awareness, and advocacy of youth mental health supports in collaboration with the California Department of Education and leading nonprofit organizations.