How to help teenagers overcome anxiety about climate change

The solutions to climate change are obvious. The opportunities for change within our systems, countries and institutions have been clearly defined, yet political forces stifle systemic climate action as well as individual agency. This inability to change what is right in front of us, coupled with the catastrophic outcomes that are here and to come, is what drives climate anxiety.

Climate anxiety is becoming prevalent especially among teenagers, who are more likely to be aware of and concerned about climate change than previous generations.

Adolescent climate anxiety is often portrayed as a simmering or underlying cause of poor mental health. This is because climate anxiety may not be the root cause of mental health problems, but rather a contributing factor to intensifying existing symptoms.


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For example, studies have described weather anxiety as a slow-burning stressor that can build up over time and increase your risk for mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Similarly, a systematic review found that climate anxiety can interact with other stressors and amplify their negative effects on mental health.

Climate anxiety can also be described as a hidden or silent stressor, as it is often not recognized or recognized by healthcare professionals or society at large. This can lead to a lack of adequate support and resources for people experiencing climate anxiety, which can further exacerbate their discomfort. Fortunately, research also suggests ways we can help teens overcome these negative feelings and turn to hope and positive action.

How climate change fuels anxiety

Overall, portraying adolescent climate anxiety as a simmering cause of mental ill health highlights the importance of addressing climate change not only as an environmental issue but also as a mental health issue. It also highlights the need for comprehensive and integrated approaches to mental health that consider the complex interplay between environmental, social and individual factors.

In a study conducted two years ago, researchers investigated the prevalence of climate anxiety among adolescents around the world and its potential impact on mental health. The study found that climate anxiety was a common experience among the adolescents surveyed, with most reporting feeling very or extremely concerned about the impact of climate change on their future.

Additional studies have found a significant association between climate anxiety and poor mental health, including symptoms of depression and anxiety. Adolescents with high levels of climate anxiety were more likely to report mental health problems than those with lower levels of climate anxiety.

Jennifer L. Barkin is a Mercer School of Medicine epidemiologist with expertise in the intersection of climate change and mental health. Her research focuses on understanding the impact of climate change on the health and well-being of vulnerable populations, especially pregnant women, children and adolescents. She and her colleagues found that adolescents experiencing high levels of climate anxiety may be at risk for developing anxiety and depressive disorders in adulthood, as well as other negative health outcomes such as substance abuse and related conditions. to chronic stress.

It’s important to note that the long-term effects of climate anxiety can also have broader social effects. Climate change is a complex and multifaceted issue that can feel overwhelming and teenagers can feel helpless because there is no connection to making meaningful changes in the face of such a massive global problem. Furthermore, the slow pace of action on climate change by governments and other institutions can contribute to a sense of hopelessness about the future. This, in turn, can further exacerbate feelings of anxiety and helplessness, creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates poor mental health outcomes.

How to help teenagers with climate anxiety

While solutions to climate change can be economic, systemic, and structural, there are steps individuals can take to manage their anxiety, which can help them develop the forward-looking thinking they need to commit to action and fight for their goals. policies that can mitigate the damage.

We can start with compassion training, as it helps people develop a more positive and supportive relationship with themselves and with others. Most importantly, compassion training cultivates discernment and wisdom with tenderness. According to the Greater Good Science Center, researchers define compassion as the feeling that arises when one is confronted with another’s suffering and feels motivated to ease that suffering. That’s why compassion training works in the case of climate change: It directly addresses this sense of helplessness by directing attention to what they can do and how they can have an impact. With a compassionate attitude, we can aim to alleviate both nature’s suffering and our own.

Research has found that compassion-based interventions can be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, increasing positive emotions, and improving overall mental health outcomes. In the context of climate anxiety, compassion training can help people feel less isolated and overwhelmed by creating a sense of shared concern and connection with others.

There are several examples of compassion-based interventions that have been developed specifically for adolescents with climate anxiety. For example, one intervention involves group-based mindfulness and compassion training, which combines mindfulness practices with compassion-focused exercises to help adolescents develop a more supportive relationship with themselves and others.

There are several examples of compassion-based interventions that can support adolescents with climate anxiety. For example, one intervention involves group-based mindfulness and compassion training, which combines mindfulness practices with compassion-focused exercises to help adolescents develop a more supportive relationship with themselves and others. Another example is the “Eco-Compassion” intervention, which emphasizes the importance of compassion for the natural world and uses mindfulness practices to help adolescents connect with nature and develop a deeper sense of care for the environment. .

Within the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics at Emory University, there are several developmental domains that may have a direct and lasting effect on climate anxiety. None of these recommendations are specific to teens, and indeed, parents and teachers should consider adopting them for themselves first and then modeling them for their teens.

Tenderness: This refers to the ability to be kind and gentle to oneself and others. Practicing tenderness can help people develop self-compassion and reduce self-criticism, which can be especially important when coping with the overwhelming and potentially distressing emotions that can result from climate anxiety. By cultivating a sense of kindness and compassion for themselves, individuals may be better equipped to handle difficult emotions and take positive action to address climate change.

common humanity: This involves the recognition that suffering and struggle are universal experiences and that we are all interconnected. Practicing common humanity can help people feel less isolated and alone in their experiences of climate anxiety and develop a sense of shared responsibility for addressing climate change. By recognizing our common humanity, people can be more motivated to take action to tackle climate change and can feel more supported in their efforts.

Interdependence: This refers to the recognition that all beings are interconnected and interdependent. Practicing interdependence can help people develop a sense of connection and responsibility to the natural world and recognize the ways our actions impact the planet and all living things. By cultivating a sense of interdependence, people can be more motivated to take action to reduce their carbon footprint and protect the environment.

Compassionate Commitment: This involves actively working to reduce suffering in oneself and in others. Practicing compassionate engagement can help people develop a sense of agency and efficacy in addressing climate change and develop a deeper commitment to making positive change. By engaging in compassionate action, people can feel more empowered and effective in their efforts to address climate change, which in turn can reduce feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Wisdom: This involves developing an understanding of the causes and conditions that give rise to suffering and the ability to respond skillfully to difficult situations. Practicing wisdom can help people gain perspective on the complex and interconnected issues that contribute to climate change and develop more effective strategies for addressing these issues. By developing wisdom, people may be better able to see the bigger picture of climate change and take a more balanced and informed approach to their actions.

Through these practices and ideas, adolescents can learn to overcome feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, to take action against climate change. This can include interventions that promote community engagement and social advocacy, as well as education and advocacy initiatives that help people feel informed and equipped to take action on climate change.

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