Climate Change Anxiety and How We Can Become Climate Resilient

While there is every logical reason to be concerned about the impact of climate change, for some people so-called “climate change anxiety” can be a real mental health issue. But how do we deal with it?

What is Climate Change Anxiety?

Detractors might scoff at the notion of anxiety over climate change, but it isn’t simply a fear about rising global temperatures. Rather, it’s the effects that climate change may have that are the source of fear and dread for some. If you already live in a state where tornadoes are a seasonal reality, the promise of more frequent storms and more severe storms might not just give you pause for thought, but could start to keep you up at night.

Similarly, if your livelihood depends on a good crop yield, worrying about rising temperatures, rising pest numbers and drought conditions, and what they could all add to your financial and emotional wellbeing, could take its toll. Another example might be if you suffer from asthma and are worried about what the rise in insulating gasses and air pollution might mean for yourself and for your children who are also likely to also suffer the condition.

While it should be said there’s no formal diagnostic criteria, those examples demonstrate why so-called climate change anxiety is a recognized and possibly growing concern.

In fact, there is concrete evidence to suggest that climate change does worry a significant proportion of Americans. Gallup polls suggest that about 24 percent of Americans worry “a great deal” about global warming. While that 2014 figure is down from those published in 2006, about the same proportion of people believe that climate change could “pose a serious threat” to them and their way of life. It may not be a majority concern, but it’s enough for researchers and psychologists to believe we should start formulating responses to climate change anxiety.

Responding to Climate Change Anxiety: Giving People A Sense of Community

One such report, published in June of this year called Beyond Storms and Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change, found a range of mental health issues relating to climate change.

As we might expect, if people have been caught up in a natural disaster like flooding, they would obviously fear increased storms and may suffer things like post-traumatic stress disorder.

However the report, which was created by the American Psychological Association together with ecoAmerica, a nonprofit focused on how we can prevent and manage climate change, found that mental health workers were reporting increased rates of people who have never been caught up in natural disasters using mental health programs and reporting anxiety (or “eco-anxiety” as the media has rather disdainfully named it).  This is because many people feel that we’ve now past the point of no return when it comes to climate change and that conditions are now only going to get worse. That fatalism may permeate everything, from family planning choices to greater substance abuse issues, and people simply report feeling powerless.

At particular risk from these anxieties are the elderly and young people. Other groups can include those with existing medical conditions, and people on low incomes. Those issues are going to get worse as climate change’s severity deepens, and we will probably start to see some of the more extreme emotional changes manifest more often, such as hot weather-linked violence — and then fear and anxiety relating to that phenomenon.

Dr. Norman B. Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association, said about climate change and its link to our mental wellbeing: “The effects we are likely to see aren’t just trauma from experiencing natural disasters. We can also expect increases in long-term stress and anxiety from the aftermath of disasters, as well as increases in violence and crime rates as a result of higher temperatures or competition for scarce resources.”

Yet, far from being a hopeless scenario, the report says that while the doom and gloom of media reports on climate change (when we’re not seeing flat-out denials of man-made climate change’s existence) aren’t the whole picture. Indeed, there is a lot we can do in our own small ways to mitigate the effects of climate change as we face them, or at the very least feel a sense of preparedness as we look to the future, and it probably starts with building relationships with our neighbors.

Says the report:

Knowledge about climate change or climate impacts is unlikely to lead to action unless people also appraise their own potential to cope and act positively. In the absence of positive coping appraisals, recognizing the threat of climate change is likely to lead people to focus their energy on managing their negative emotions by denying or avoiding the problem. But the more that people feel able to address the issue as individuals or collectively, the more likely they will be to feel a sense of hope (Koerth, Vafeidis, Hinkel, & Sterr, 2013) and overcome the denial and passivity that undermine effective response (Ojala, 2012; van Zomeren, Spears, & Leach, 2010).

Among other things, the report says we need to start emphasizing that while climate change is a reality, it doesn’t mean that we should feel a sense of helplessness in its looming shadow. Indeed, one of the major factors the report stresses is that a greater sense of community can help us overcome some of the anxieties we face: in effect, the sense of having a safety net of people willing to help in a crisis will lessen our anxiety of what we will do if a climate change-related problem does arise. That might be especially meaningful to our elders who may be reliant on some assistance if something should happen.

This all leads to an increase in what’s known as our climate resilience. While it’s true that in the face of increased wildfires or tropical storms we may have very little that we personally can do to prevent those natural disasters, we can at least control how we prepare, how we act in those emergencies and how we help others after those emergencies: and doing all that together seems to be our best chance at remaining emotionally healthy.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Richard A
Richard A2 years ago

Thank you for posting this article.

Carl R
Carl R2 years ago

Thanks for the info!!!

Dennis D.
Past Member 4 years ago

Joellen G. You had me right up till you wrote go vegetarian or vegan. Though where you really lost me was recommending that a person should not be willing to extend their life medically.

Personally, how long a person lives is not the issue here. It is how are we going to treat the planet. How are we going to respond to climate change/global warming. Most of your post is dead on. Yes, we should buy local. It makes sense even with out global warming. Supporting a local industry and business keeps people employed in your area.

Solar panel and wind mills is a good way to reduce your carbon foot print and keep that much more money in your pocket. Recycling is another good way to help the local economy and less landfill mean usage of materials in the pipeline that can be effectively reused.

Having a local or community garden is great way to offset a food bill. A community garden is a good thing as well. As it foster a closer neighborhood. As well as reducing that carbon foot print for every one.

Each of these ideas has a real world impact. Is more than I have stated in this post.

As vegetarian or vegan. Not a chance for this man. I like my meat.

At my age If I feel the need to extend my life through medical science. I will do so. As there is not one good reason to simply die just to make room. I am confident that a better approach to population control other than the zero population idea can be found.

Joellen G.
Joellen G4 years ago

No one mentions the impact of population. We must stop procreating, and do all we can to slow global warming--no more flying, and dramatically cut our use of fossil fuels. Bike, walk, use mass transportation. Don't buy anything new. Recycle. Go vegetarian or better yet vegan--factory farms impact GW horribly Buy local everything. Put in a garden. Get solar panels. Write LTEs, talk to your friends and associates about GW. If older, do not extend your life with a lot of medical treatments. You can do all this, and have an enjoyable life--even better than before, because you're doing your best for the rest of life on Earth.

Dennis D.
Past Member 4 years ago

judith s.
2:19pm PDT on Aug 19, 2014
Stop telling us we will be ok if we just change our shopping habits, recycle and repurpose! Sure, our personal activities may have an effect, but we need dramatic change at the highest level. Climate change is a threat to *life on this planet*, not your way of life. We are at the point where we have to make the hard choices, even if they are not economically pleasant.
Read more:

The harder choices does not come from dramatic sweeping changes. it comes from recognizing that as a people that we can make the changes and do so. The sacrifices that need to be made is the ones that would mean retooling the entire infrastructure. one that i might add we here in America have been trying to fight for. Upgrading the aforementioned infrastructure. Just to get bridges fixed has been a nonstarter. (thank you republican/tea party and their supporters). Countries like Denmark, Germany, and Iceland to name three. Shows that it can be done.

You are right it takes the will of the people with leaders and businesses to make it happen. Yes, some sacrifices are going to be painful in the short term. At the same time we do need to look how we consume the goods that are offered. The individual can do his/her part as well. It does not have to be dramatic or even over the top. Just some common sense ideas implemented into our lives.

K Eble
karen Eble4 years ago

you touch on the elderly but don't really address the special guilt some elderly feel just being alive and using resources but no longer being able to give much back.

Warren Biggs
Warren Biggs4 years ago

The so-called "fatality" is actually realism. We have hit two major positive feedback loops. At this point what we do or don't do will have little impact in the not-so-long term. Don't believe me? Do the research especially on albedo and melting permafrost. SIXTEEN BIILION tons of rotting organic matter rising to the surface. Please keep your arms and legs in the vehicle while moving. lol

Kamia T.
Kamia T4 years ago

The only thing you can do in the face of all the chaos that is mounting - both climatically and humanly, is to prepare as best you can to stand on your own two feet. Quit expecting "someone" or the "government" to solve your problems. Obviously, they've been completely unable to do so thus far, so why think it will get any better as things become worse. If you fear an earthquake, put in survival foods, water, etc. and tie all your stuff down as best you can. Floods? Where else can you be? Think ahead as if you're the first human on the planet, having to take care of you and your family, and you'll be much further ahead.

Donnaa D.
donnaa D4 years ago


DIane L.
Linda L4 years ago

Too many people to stop climate change. Read my other posts as I am tired of writing about this. Dan B: Exactly what planet do you live on?