Coping with Eco-Anxiety as a Climate Activist

On a daily basis, anyone following the news is confronted with headlines about the climate crisis. For example, one recent story from the Washington Post was titled “2021 brought a wave of extreme weather disasters. Scientists say worse lies ahead.” As a young climate activist, I applaud this reporting and the unrelenting efforts news sources are making to educate the public about this incredibly pressing issue. On the flipside, as a young person fighting for the future of our planet, I am often surrounded by messages of doom and gloom. Some days, it feels like everyone in the world is working against me and my future. Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I do; it brings me so much joy and, more often than not, hope. But it can also be incredibly overwhelming to know the realities of the climate crisis and have no idea what the future will actually bring. Is everything my fellow activists and I are doing enough? Will that big bill be passed? Will I and all of the other young people around the world even get to see the future we’ve dreamed about our entire lives? Personally, I have noticed that when I get frustrated by seemingly careless politicians and the generally insufficient efforts of adults in power, I start to place way more weight than is necessary on my small individual actions.

In the grand scheme of things, I know that it’s not going to make much of a difference if I leave the oven on for an extra minute, or if I let one banana get so old that I just have to get rid of it, but these little things can really stress me out if I’m not careful. So many people all over the world—whether they’re involved in the movement, are directly impacted by the crisis, or anything in between—are experiencing some form of climate anxiety, and these feelings are incredibly valid. I’ve been told so many times to “just stay positive” or that “it will all work out.” But, in all honesty, that just makes me feel worse. It’s not okay. These are desperate times, and many of our leaders aren’t doing nearly enough. 

Fortunately, there are many ways you can help yourself cope with all this stress. One of the most essential parts of dealing with climate anxiety is acknowledging your feelings instead of dismissing them. The climate crisis is scary and unlike anything many of us have ever faced, so you have every reason to feel what you’re feeling. The start to managing your emotions is accepting them. After you’ve done that, you can also make a big difference by talking to people about the stress that you’re feeling. You don’t need a therapist to do this, especially since climate anxiety is so common. The key is to find people who can relate to what you’re going through. If you are involved in the movement, I can guarantee that many of the activists you work with have experienced similar emotions and will want to talk about it. Just getting everything out into the open, and knowing that you’re not alone is critical.

I also think that it is super important to take breaks from all the doom and gloom and spend time doing other enjoyable things. Connecting with nature for example, even if just for a few minutes, allows me to step back and appreciate the amazing world I work so hard to protect. Lastly, if you aren’t doing this already, embrace your anger and fear for the future by taking action! There are so many opportunities to get involved, and there really is something for everyone within the movement. I don’t know where I’d be without my activism and the community of amazing people I’ve met through my work. Seeing so many people come together and fight for this issue that I’ve dedicated my life to is remarkable. Every single one of you gives me hope for a better tomorrow. 

So while 2022 will likely bring many more discouraging headlines, the climate movement is a powerful one, and as long as we don’t sweep our anxiety under the rug, nothing can bring us down. It is important to talk about the issue of climate anxiety so it doesn’t become a barrier between us and confronting this challenge of a lifetime.

This essay first appeared in Ecosystemic, a publication from SEASN (the Student Environmentalism and Sustainability Network).

Isabelle Reinecke

Isabelle Reinecke (she/her). Grade 9, Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

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