The term ‘eco-anxiety’ was first defined in a 2017 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. The majority of research on environmental degradation looks at the physical and environmental consequences of climate change, but the emotional and psychological impact is relatively overlooked.
Although eco-anxiety is not a clinical anxiety disorder, it denotes feelings of stress, hopelessness and fear arising from the knowledge of the existential threat of climate change. Some people may experience eco-anxiety as a direct result of, for example, seeing the remains of their home after being burned down in the California wildfires; whereas others may experience eco-anxiety as an indirect pervasive worry about the general state of the world and their future.
According to scholars, people have developed psychological defences to climate change, such as ‘socially constructed silence’, in order to protect themselves from environmental-related anxiety. For instance, some people may shut down conversations about climate change, or even deny that it exists in the first place, in an attempt to avoid the psychological consequences of climatic reality.
In terms of reducing anxiety levels related to the climate crisis, experts recommend taking action, such as getting involved in activism, or making sustainable changes to your lifestyle. Doing so increases the personal and communal sense of agency and alleviates the psychological toll of accepting the reality that the climate is in crisis.