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Eco-anxiety (short for ecological anxiety and also known as eco-distress or climate-anxiety) has been defined as "a chronic fear of environmental doom".[1] Extensive studies had been done on ecological anxiety since 2007, and various definitions remain in use.[2] Another widely cited definition is: "the generalized sense that the ecological foundations of existence are in the process of collapse."[3] Some scholars use the term "eco-anxiety" as a synonym for "climate-anxiety", while others like to treat the terms separately.[3] While much ecological disruption results from climate change, some is caused by direct human activity, such as deforestation. The condition is not a medical diagnosis and is regarded as a rational response to the reality of climate change; however, severe instances can have a mental health impact if left without alleviation.[4]

Eco-anxiety is an unpleasant emotion, though it can also motivate useful behavior such as the gathering of relevant information.[5] However, it can also manifest as conflict avoidance, or even be "paralyzing."[6] Some people have reported experiencing so much anxiety and fear about the future with climate change that they choose not to have children.[7] Eco-anxiety received more attention after 2017, and especially since late 2018 with Greta Thunberg having publicly discussed her own eco-anxiety.[3][8]

After a Blue Origin spaceflight

      It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness. Every day, we are confronted with the knowledge of further destruction of Earth at our hands: the extinction of animal species, of flora and fauna... things that took five billion years to evolve, and suddenly we will never see them again because of the interference of mankind. It filled me with dread. My trip to space was supposed to be a celebration; instead, it felt like a funeral.

William Shatner
in Boldly Go[9]

In 2018, the American Psychological Association issued a report about the impact of climate change on mental health. It said that "gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion".[10] Generally this is likely to have the greatest impact on young people. Eco-anxiety that is now affecting young adults has been likened to Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation felt by baby boomers.[11] Research has found that although there are heightened emotional experiences linked with acknowledgement and anticipation of climate change and its impact on society, these are inherently adaptive.[6] Furthermore, engaging with these emotional experiences leads to increased resilience, agency, reflective functioning and collective action. Individuals are encouraged to find collective ways of processing their climate related emotional experiences in order to support mental health and well being.[12]

The American Psychology Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as “the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm that comes from observing the seemingly irrevocable impact of climate change and the associated concern for one's future and that of next generations”. The APA, therefore, considers that the internalization of the great environmental problems that affect our planet can have psychological consequences of varying seriousness in some people.


2018 surveys conducted in the United States found between 21%[13] and 29%[14] of Americans said they were "very" worried about the climate, double the rate of a similar study in 2015. The condition has become especially common among children and young people – in some universities over 70% of students have self described as suffering from eco-anxiety, though as of early 2021, validated ways to assess the prevalence of climate or eco-anxiety were not well established.[15][16][17] A survey published in September 2021 had queried 10,000 young people from 10 countries across the world, finding that almost 60% were either very or extremely worried about climate change. Two thirds said they felt sad, afraid and anxious, while close to 40% reported they were hesitant to have children.[18][19] An October 2021 report based on polling in the UK found 78% of people surveyed expressed some degree of eco-anxiety. The report found no significant difference in levels of eco-anxiety based on age or social class. It did however find that women (45%) were substantially more likely to report high levels of eco-anxiety compared to men (36%).[20][21] Similar observations have been reported worldwide, including European and African countries.[6]

A 2022 study commissioned by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported that "anxieties around climate change and environmental issues" caused insomnia for 70% of Americans.[22]

Although the notions of eco-anxiety and climate change anxiety have gained traction, one of the current hot topics in the scientific literature concerns their assessment.[23][24]

This concept of climate or ecological anxiety and grief is far-reaching. This is due to the extensive awareness about climate change that is made possible through technological communications. Climate change is a severe, ongoing, and global threat that is largely characterized by uncertainty and lack of understanding. For this reason, anxiety and grief in humans is a natural and rational response for those feeling fear or a lack of control. For example, this could arise in people who are forced to leave their homes, deal with uncertainty about their future environment, or feel concern for the future harm of their children. Climate grief can be divided into three categories: physical ecological losses, the loss of environmental knowledge, and anticipated future losses.[25] Those who rely most closely on the land and land-based activities for their livelihood and wellbeing, such as Indigenous people and farmers are especially vulnerable to mental health decline.[26]

Related emotional responses[edit]

Other climate specific psychological impacts are less well studied than eco-anxiety. They include eco-depression, eco-anger, and states of denial or numbness, which can be brought on by too much exposure to alarmist presentation of the climate threat. A study that separated the effects of eco-anxiety, eco-depression and eco-anger, found that eco-anger is the best for a person's wellbeing. This study also found that eco-anger is good for motivating participation in actions that combat climate change.[27] A separate report from 2021 found that eco-anger was significantly more common among young people.[28]

Treatment and response[edit]

The first step for therapists in treating eco-anxiety is realizing that a fearful response to a real condition is not pathological. Eco-fear is a completely normal response even if the client finds it profoundly disturbing. Therapists need to take clients' fears about the situation seriously and "not assume they're a dysfunctional mental health problem or that a person suffering from eco-anxiety is somehow ill." However, fear and anxiety about global warming may exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions.[29] Symptoms include irritability, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, bouts of weakness, panic attacks, and twitching. In terms of treatment, individualistic models of mental health are "not designed to deal with collective trauma on a planetary scale".[29]

Various non-clinical treatments, group work options, internet based support forums, and self-help books are available for people suffering from less severe psychological conditions. Some of the psychological impacts require no form of treatment at all, and can even be positive: for example, worry about climate change can be positively related to information-seeking and to a sense of being able to influence such problems.[30]

One way to combat eco-anxiety is through beliefs about the effectiveness of personal actions. Eco-anxiety can be fueled in part by climate change helplessness,[31] a form of learned helplessness applied to climate change fears. Because climate change is such an enormous issue with such dire consequences, an individual's actions may seem to make no difference in combatting the bigger issue. This can demotivate people from taking any pro-environmental at all. But, an intervention advocating for the effectiveness of individual actions can reduce feelings of apathy and anxiety associated with climate change helplessness. When people receive information describing how their personal actions impact the environment, they report less fear of climate change, and intend to make more sustainable choices, showing that climate change helplessness can be treated by beliefs in climate change efficacy.[31]

In general, psychotherapists say that when individuals take action to combat climate change, this reduces anxiety levels by bringing a sense of personal empowerment and feelings of connection with others in the community.[32][33] Many psychologists emphasize that in addition to action, there is a need to build emotional resilience to avoid burnout.[34][35][36][37]

A 2021 literature review found that emotional responses to crisis can be adaptive when the individual has the capacity and support to process and reflect on this emotion. In these cases, individuals are able to grow from their experiences and support others. In the context of climate change, this capacity for deep reflection is necessary to navigate the emotional challenges that both individuals and societies face.[38][27][39]


Several psychological organizations have been founded around climate psychology.[40][41][42] Scholars have pointed out that there is a need for a systemic approach to provide various resources for people in relation to the mental health impacts of ecological problems and climate change.[1][43] Some organizations, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, provide web based guidance to help caregivers assist children and young adults deal with their eco-anxiety.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Clayton, Susan; Manning, Christie; Krygsman, Kirra; Speiser, Meighen (March 2017), Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance (PDF), American Psychological Association
  2. ^ Vakoch, Douglas A.; Mickey, Sam, eds. (2023). Eco-Anxiety and Pandemic Distress: Psychological Perspectives on Resilience and Interconnectness. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780197622674.
  3. ^ a b c Pihkala Panu (2020). "Anxiety and the Ecological Crisis: An Analysis of Eco-Anxiety and Climate Anxiety". Sustainability. 12 (19): 7836. doi:10.3390/su12197836.
  4. ^ a b Dr Catriona Mellor (2020). "Eco distress: for parents and carers". Royal College of Psychiatrists. Retrieved 25 February 2021.
  5. ^ Vakoch, Douglas A.; Mickey, Sam, eds. (2022). Eco-Anxiety and Planetary Hope: Experiencing the Twin Disasters of Covid-19 and Climate Change. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. ISBN 978-3-031-08430-0.
  6. ^ a b c Heeren, A.; Mouguiama-Daouda, C.; Contreras, A. (2022). "On climate anxiety and the threat it may pose to daily life functioning and adaptation: a study among European and African French-speaking participants". Climatic Change. 173 (1–2): 15. Bibcode:2022ClCh..173...15H. doi:10.1007/s10584-022-03402-2. PMC 9326410. PMID 35912274.
  7. ^ Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew; Leong, Kit Ling (1 November 2020). "Eco-reproductive concerns in the age of climate change". Climatic Change. 163 (2): 1007–1023. Bibcode:2020ClCh..163.1007S. doi:10.1007/s10584-020-02923-y. ISSN 1573-1480. S2CID 226983864.
  8. ^ Vaughan, Adam (18 December 2019). "The Year the World Woke up to Climate Change". New Scientist. Vol. 244, no. 3261/62. pp. 20–21. Archived from the original on 22 December 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  9. ^ Shatner, William (October 6, 2022). "William Shatner: My Trip to Space Filled Me With 'Overwhelming Sadness'". Variety. Archived from the original on October 11, 2022. Boldly Go is Shatner's 2022 autobiography.
  10. ^ Climate Change's Toll On Mental Health Archived 18 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine, APA, 29 March 2017
  11. ^ 'Climate grief' takes toll on younger generations Archived 18 October 2020 at, SC Times, 21 April 2019.
  12. ^ Kieft, J.; Bendell, J (2021). "The responsibility of communicating difficult truths about climate influenced societal disruption and collapse: an introduction to psychological research". Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) Occasional Papers. 7: 1–39. Archived from the original on 10 March 2021. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  13. ^ 'Climate grief': The growing emotional toll of climate change NBC News, 24 December 2018
  14. ^ Climate Change in the American Mind: December 2018, Climate Change Communication
  15. ^ Alan E Stewart (2021). "Psychometric Properties of the Climate Change Worry Scale". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 18 (2): 494. doi:10.3390/ijerph18020494. PMC 7826965. PMID 33435348.
  16. ^ Judy Wu, Gaelen Snell, Hasina Samji (2020). "Climate anxiety in young people: a call to action". The Lancet. 4 (10): e435–e436. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30223-0. PMID 32918865.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  17. ^ Susan Clayton (2020). "Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change". Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 74: 102263. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102263. PMID 32623280. S2CID 220370112.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  18. ^ Roger Harrabin (14 September 2021). "Climate change: Young people very worried - survey". BBC News. Retrieved 23 September 2021.
  19. ^ Hickman, Caroline; Marks, Elizabeth; Pihkala, Panu; Clayton, Susan; Lewandowski, Eric; Mayall, Elouise; Wray, Britt; Mellor, Catriona; van Susteren, Lise (2021-12-31). "Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey". Lancet Planetary Health. 5 (12): e863–e873. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00278-3. ISSN 2542-5196.
  20. ^ Toby Helm (31 October 2021). "Eco-anxiety over climate crisis suffered by all ages and classes". The Observer. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  21. ^ Rowenna Davis (October 2021). "A Criis in Common" (PDF). Global Future. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  22. ^ Weisbrod, Katelyn (2022-09-03). "Warming Trends: Climate Insomnia, the Decline of Alpine Bumblebees and Cycling like the Dutch and the Danes". Inside Climate News. Retrieved 2022-09-04.
  23. ^ Mouguiama-Daouda, C.; Blanchard, M.A.; Coussement, C.; Heeren, A. (2022). "On the Measurement of Climate Change Anxiety: French Validation of the Climate Anxiety Scale". Psychologica Belgica. 62 (1): 123–135. doi:10.5334/pb.1137. PMC 8954884. PMID 35414943.
  24. ^ Clayton, S.; Karazsia, B. (2020). "Development and validation of a measure of climate change anxiety". Journal of Environmental Psychology. 69: 101434. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2020.101434. S2CID 218969799.
  25. ^ Clayton, Susan (1 August 2020). "Climate anxiety: Psychological responses to climate change". Journal of Anxiety Disorders. 74: 102263. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2020.102263. ISSN 0887-6185. PMID 32623280. S2CID 220370112.
  26. ^ Cunsolo, Ashlee; Harper, Sherilee L.; Minor, Kelton; Hayes, Katie; Williams, Kimberly G.; Howard, Courtney (1 July 2020). "Ecological grief and anxiety: the start of a healthy response to climate change?". The Lancet Planetary Health. 4 (7): e261–e263. doi:10.1016/S2542-5196(20)30144-3. ISSN 2542-5196. PMID 32681892.
  27. ^ a b Samantha K. Stanley, Teaghan L. Hogg, Zoe Leviston, Iain Walker (2021). "From anger to action: Differential impacts of eco-anxiety, eco-depression, and eco-anger on climate action and wellbeing". The Journal of Climate Change and Health. 1: 100003. doi:10.1016/j.joclim.2021.100003.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  28. ^ Rowenna Davis (October 2021). "A Crisis in Common" (PDF). Global Future. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  29. ^ a b Buzzell, Linda; Chalquist, Craig (2019). It's Not Eco-Anxiety – It's Eco-Fear! A Survey of the Eco-Emotions.
  30. ^ Ojala, Maria; Cunsolo, Ashlee; Ogunbode, Charles A.; Middleton, Jacqueline (18 October 2021). "Anxiety, Worry, and Grief in a Time of Environmental and Climate Crisis: A Narrative Review". Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 46 (1): 35–58. doi:10.1146/annurev-environ-012220-022716. ISSN 1543-5938. S2CID 236307729.
  31. ^ a b Salomon, Erika; Preston, Jesse L.; Tannenbaum, Melanie B. (2017). "Climate change helplessness and the (de)moralization of individual energy behavior". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 23 (1): 15–28. doi:10.1037/xap0000105. ISSN 1939-2192. PMID 28165276. S2CID 3587153.
  32. ^ Terrified of Climate Change? You Might Have Eco-Anxiety, Time, 21 November 2019
  33. ^ Cossman, Brenda (2013). "Anxiety Governance". Law & Social Inquiry. 38 (4): 892–919. doi:10.1111/lsi.12027. ISSN 0897-6546. JSTOR 24545848. S2CID 232396087.
  34. ^ Davenport, Leslie. (2017). Emotional resiliency in the era of climate change – a clinicians guide. ISBN 978-1-78592-719-5. OCLC 1023251552.
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  36. ^ "Climate change and dealing with burnout | APS". Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  37. ^ "How climate activists avoid burn out". The Ecologist. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  38. ^ Kieft, Jasmine and Bendell, Jem (2021) The responsibility of communicating difficult truths about climate influenced societal disruption and collapse: an introduction to psychological research. Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) Occasional Papers Volume 7. University of Cumbria, Ambleside, UK..(Unpublished)
  39. ^ P. Tschakert, N.R.Ellis, C.Anderson, A.Kelly, J.Obeng (2019). "One thousand ways to experience loss: A systematic analysis of climate-related intangible harm from around the world". Global Environmental Change. 55: 58–72. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2018.11.006. S2CID 159117696.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  40. ^ "Psychology for a Safe Climate". psc-website. Retrieved 13 February 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  41. ^ "Climate Psychology Alliance – Home". Climate Psychology Alliance. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
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External links[edit]