Climate anxiety – or eco-anxiety – is the feeling of helplessness resulting from climate change concerns and worries about the future of our communities and planet. For some, like 17-year-old Maya Gomez, the fear is too close to home.
Growing up in Rocklin, Calif., Maya remembers crying herself to sleep, worrying her house would burn down in one of California’s many wildfires. Today, the senior at Whitney High School is a student leader for in Wellness Together's “Mind Out Loud” program, which is supported by Blue Shield’s BlueSky youth mental health initiative. Collaborating with peers, Gomez channels her climate anxiety into mental health advocacy.
“For some youth, the anxiety is so extreme that they discuss it with a therapist,” she said. “But for many of us, it’s become so common that we are desensitized to it and numb. Fire season is just another season, like ski season.”
According to Blue Shield of California’s 2022 Youth Climate Survey, four out of five Gen-Z youth have experienced at least one mental health-related impact due to reading, seeing, or hearing climate change-related news. These issues include stress, anxiety, depression, and even headaches.
David Bond, director of behavioral health at Blue Shield of California, says that eco-anxiety is connected to an intersection of societal challenges. “Eco-anxiety rarely lives by itself; the political, economic, and social environment compounds it. People are concerned about the entire psychosocial wellness of their community and their ability to fully function. It’s about recognizing that you’re a part of something larger that needs to be cared for.”
Bond recommends taking action as an important coping strategy: “We are frequently consuming negative messages about climate change in the news and social media. This can impact the nervous system and produce a chronic feed of chemicals to keep you feeling anxious. It’s important to seek out information on the positive responses both government and nonprofits are making. If you get involved and take action, you could channel some of that anxiety into creating positive impacts.”
According to Blue Shield’s Youth Climate Survey, Gen Z is doing just that: Four out of five youths say they have personally taken action to respond to climate change. Count Gomez and her family among them.
“Personally, I avoid plastic bottles and packaging, buy clothing from sustainable brands, and run appliances on low energy/heat settings,” she said.
Tips for coping with eco-anxiety
In addition to getting involved in climate advocacy, Bond has several other recommendations to alleviate eco-anxiety:
- Acknowledge your feelings: Take the time to acknowledge and honor your emotions. Climate change is real, and so are your feelings.
- Connect with others: Engage with friends and family – especially those coping with climate anxiety – so you don’t feel alone.
- Use emotional coping tools: Initiate a practice, such as mindful meditation or breathwork, to stay present.
- Connect with nature: Spend time outside to calm your nervous systems, ease stress, and reduce rumination.
- Engage in self-care: Take time for yourself. Go for a walk, cook a meal, take a nap, and do other activities that generate positive feelings and a sense of well-being.
- Seek help: See a therapist or join a support group. When eco-anxiety has a negative impact on your life, seeking professional help could make a huge difference to help you move through it.
Gomez underscored the importance of recognizing the genuine emotions around climate change and how they are a response to actual events.
"It's important not to internalize or ignore your feelings, but to convert that energy into something positive and understand that everyone has a role to play here,” she said.
The good news is that youth are getting help for their eco-anxiety. In Blue Shield’s survey, 60% of respondents said they turned to friends when experiencing mental health problems associated with climate-change news. Forty-four percent said they spoke to their parents, and 18% said they contacted a therapist. While this data reflects the breadth of eco-anxiety, it also signals that the stigma of seeking mental health support is receding among young people.
Blue Shield’s youth mental health BlueSky initiative – launched in the fall of 2019 - has many resources directed toward students, parents, and educators. Learn more here.
If you are interested in learning about Blue Shield of California’s commitment to addressing climate change, read our Environmental Sustainability Goals fact sheet.