What is Eco-anxiety?
Eco-anxiety, also called solastalgia, is the strong fear and apprehension of environmental changes that are seen as inevitable and irreversible. It involves overwhelming worries for the planet’s future and about current environmental issues.
Since this form of anxiety is rather recent, there is still very little scientific information that can tell us about its scale, and few statistics to let us know how many people suffer from it. However, it seems that Generations Y and Z (young people under 35 years old) are significantly more affected by eco-anxiety.
The Effects of Eco-anxiety on Young People
Although older people may also worry about the future of the environment and its impact on their health or their lives, there are more young people that describe themselves as eco-anxious, especially because environmental issues might have more of an effect on their lives and those of their children in the future. Climate issues can even push some young people to question their ambitions and dreams, such as having children or plans for the future.
This attitude is specific to teenage years during which young people define their own values and need to assert themselves to express them. Sometimes, this means that they see everything in terms of black and white thinking. It’s only by getting older that their opinions solidify or become more nuanced.
Normal Stress or Eco-anxiety?
Just like any other form of anxiety, eco-anxiety in small doses can push us to react, to get involved, and to protect ourselves against dangerous situations. However, excessive and constant anxiety can be harmful and can lead to a lot of anguish.
It would be wrong to label any young person worried about environmental issues and their consequences, as eco-anxious. But a teen with recurrent negative thoughts, who feels anguish about certain kinds of climate news, or who shows other general symptoms of anxiety related to their worries about environmental problems, could be experiencing eco-anxiety.
Eco-anxiety still isn’t officially recognized as a diagnosis. Yet, the people living with it describe specific symptoms that are similar to other forms of anxiety, such as:
- having panic attacks, or general angst
- sudden changes in mood
- obsessive thoughts
- loss of appetite
When they relate more specifically to the environment, symptoms may show up as:
- chronic or excessive fear about natural disasters
- dread of environmental calamities that leads to significant anguish
- a strong feeling of despair about the future
- the development of obsessive and recurrent thoughts about anything related to the environment.
This could also be followed by a loss of faith in fighting against climate change, and strong feelings of powerlessness, of guilt, or of sadness.
If eco-anxiety starts to be crippling or painful for a young person, then it could be a good idea to see a healthcare professional such as a help service worker or psychologist.
Helping your Teen with Eco-anxiety
Limiting Disturbing News
Climate disasters have become part of our daily lives in the media. News from reliable and scientific sources can encourage awareness about the seriousness of the situation, but on the other hand, consuming only this kind of news, or consuming it even when it leads to anxiety, can be very harmful for some people. As a result, paying attention to the effects this kind of news can have on your teen can be a useful first step. You can also ask your teen to think about how all this news and information affects their mental state.
Becoming Socially Involved
Using our fears as motivation to get involved and be socially active can help change anxiety into tangible action. This can give teens power over the situation and a feeling of being useful by taking part in a collective movement. Also, getting involved in movements (awareness-raising groups and demonstrations, for example) allows them to meet people that share the same worries. In this way, teens can come together and act, rather than be alone with their worries.
Living Life in Keeping with their Values
Beyond just social involvement, it can be useful for teens to take on everyday gestures that help them live in accordance with their values. For example, they can act by recycling, making compost, getting started on a zero waste lifestyle, eating less meat, or by taking on other habits that help them enact their values and tangibly react to climate issues.
Learning to Manage Uncertainty
Climate issues are so huge that they don’t give us the opportunity to feel like we’re in control of the situation. This is totally normal and it’s why we need to learn to manage and tolerate uncertainty. This is something that can be learned by focusing on the present and on the tangible actions we can do, depending on each individual’s situation. However, just as in any other situation, it’s impossible to control the future!
Spotting the Hard Times
We can try to understand the signals sent by our bodies and brains in order to target the times when worries about climate turmoil tend to take over. For example, we can tell our teens to be on the lookout for times when eco-anxious thoughts are more intense or present. This could help target certain negative issues or situations, which they can then reduce or eliminate entirely. On the other hand, we can also help our teens be aware of the times they feel good, like when they are taking actions to help the environment.