by Alvin Willis Published: 09/06/16 Tags: #planet
- Eco-anxiety is on the rise as more people become aware of how climate change will impact them. - Younger people are feeling particularly anxious about the world they're inheriting, research shows. - Insider spoke to experts and people with eco-anxiety to find out more about their worries.
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Jennie Ferrara's husband brought home the newspaper one day because he thought the front-page story would interest his wife. Instead, it almost made her faint.
The year was 2008, and some of the leading oil companies in the world were announcing plans to extract more oil from Canada's tar sands — a move that would prove detrimental to the environment.
Ferrara, who is originally from Texas but lives in Denmark, had felt pessimistic about the environment for many years, but the headline that day tipped her over the edge.
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"When I looked, just looked, at the front page, I practically went comatose," Ferrara recalled to Insider.
"It feels like you're suddenly zooming in on something, your body goes a bit numb and everything around you goes quiet ... You lose all energy and question your will to live," she said.
Ferrara was experiencing a form of so-called "eco-anxiety" — a term that's officially been defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as "the chronic fear of environmental doom."
She is among a growing number of people who have found that the rapidly declining state of the planet is impacting their mental health.
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According to the latest research, "eco-anxiety" is more present than ever.
A recent survey published by Yale University found that more than 40% of Americans felt "helpless" about the state of the planet. And according to a 2020 poll by the APA, more than half of Americans said they were somewhat or extremely anxious about the impact of climate change on their own mental health.
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"We've seen a growing number of people who are feeling an emotional response to what's happening by living in such a changing world," Leslie Davenport, a climate psychology consultant and therapist based in Tacoma, Washington, told Insider.
Davenport said that part of the reason behind the rise of "eco-dread" is that more people are realizing "how much climate change is impacting us on a personal level."
This summer alone, Hurricane Ida submerged entire homes in water, much of Germany was destroyed by historic flooding, and wildfires in southern Europe and North America displaced hundreds of people.
"It was easier in the past to keep climate change as somewhere off in the future, something happening somewhere else to somebody else ... But now, as the effects are on the rise, our responses are on the rise too," Davenport added.
As a climate psychology consultant, Davenport works with clients who experience a whole spectrum of reactions to climate change.
Some — like Ferrara — experience very strong physical sensations. They have difficulties breathing or feel like they're having a heart attack, she said.
Others have more subtle symptoms — they cry randomly, can't sleep at night, or often feel irritable and on edge.
Fred Heldreth covers his face for protection from the holy fire smoke burning through Orange and Riverside county in Lake Elsinore, CA.
Maria Alejandra Cardona/Contributor/Los Angeles Times
Her clients vary in age, although research shows that specifically younger generations feel distraught about the planet they're inheriting.
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from 2019 found that 57 percent of American teenagers said that climate change made them feel scared, while 52 percent said it made them angry.
In 2019, climate activist Clover Hogan set up Force of Nature, which aims to tackle this. Her team teaches students aged 11-24 about the climate crisis to help them navigate their anxiety and realize their potential to get involved.
"At the end of the day, none of us are responsible or capable of solving the climate crisis alone. We're not capable of changing it overnight. Yet what we are capable of changing overnight, is our mindset," Hogan told Insider.
"If we can change the way that we think about the issues, if we can change the way that we respond to those emotions and rather than running away from them, hold space for them and think about the power of them to create change, the more empowered and agency we are going to feel."
Protesters are seen during a climate change demonstration shouting slogans while holding placards in Los Angeles, CA.
Ronen Tivony/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Ferrara has dealt with her climate-induced fears by channeling them into her own forms of activism.
In 2011, she started a blog called "Climate Worrier, made numerous podcasts about eco-anxiety, and is now teaching school children in Denmark about the climate and saving urban trees.
Apart from a few exceptions, she has stopped flying and said she hasn't gotten a physical reaction from reading news headlines in years.
"We need to be careful and open and kind when we are talking about the climate crisis and climate anxiety because we're often made to think that the problem lies with the individual, which makes it seem as though it's the individual's problem to fix," she said. "It is not."