What is Eco-anxiety and the different forms of eco-emotions that it can manifest as?
Updated: Jul 4
We all live in a world that is dealing with frequent and significant climate change impacts, and we are exposed to news about these developments almost on a daily basis. Many of us are actually present in the zones of impact or know people who are being directly affected by ecological, social, or economic impacts of climate change.
This constant reminder of an uncertain future combined by lack of action by those responsible for decision making at national and global levels is leading to mental distress among people at a large scale. According to the American Psychological Association, 75% of Americans are concerned about climate change and 25% are alarmed — a figure that has doubled since 2017.
Eco-anxiety is described by the American Psychology Association 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.’ It can also be referred to as Climate anxiety in the context of climate change.
Climate change distress is the emotional and psychological distress caused by knowing, reading, talking, experiencing and/or watching things that refer to climate change and its impact. Let’s take a look at what kind of eco-emotions may manifest and lead to eco-anxiety in a person’s mind as a result of this.
Eco-anger/Eco-angst/Climate-angst – The feeling of anger caused by witnessing the planet’s suffering and the lack of action by leaders, establishments, industries, and nations. This is often the driving emotion behind climate activism where art in museums is destroyed or fashion shows are disrupted to protest and draw attention to the climate crisis.
Eco grief – The kind of sadness that manifests as a result of ecological loss in the past, present, or future. It can also stem from one’s sense of identity and belonging. People who witness the consequences of climate change such as forest fires often develop and carry a sense of grief.
Eco-paralysis – The inability to take effective action for the planet because the level of emotional distress associated with the individual’s eco-anxiety is high.
Eco-guilt – The feeling of not doing enough at an individual level to save the planet. It stems from the awareness about one’s lifestyle choices and actions that are harmful to the planet and may contribute directly or indirectly to climate change. It can feel similar to eco-paralysis however, eco-guilt can be felt more in the presence of someone who you feel is doing more than you, like meeting a vegan or when someone talks about them owning an electric car.
Climate dread – A form of eco-anxiety where your thoughts about climate change are heavily clouded by a strong sense of fear, gloom and helplessness causing you to be dreadful of the future.
Climate doom – The feeling of wanting to give up caused by the belief or assumption that we are past the point of no return and nothing can be done to save humanity and the planet now. According to Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Chatham House researchers we could be entering a ‘doom loop’ which is when the consequences of the climate crisis draw focus and resources from tackling its causes, leading to higher temperatures and ecological loss, which then create more severe consequences, diverting even more attention and resources, and so on. A more severe form of this is doomsday anxiety, the feeling that we are rapidly heading towards a day when life on this planet will come to an end. This can be a possible result of climate dread leading to irrational subconscious thoughts and fears manifesting and can also turn into a phobia.
Eco trauma/ Climate trauma – The trauma caused by witnessing the abuse and destruction of the natural world. When one sees themselves as a part of the natural world, one can develop a feeling of sharing the trauma of the planet.
Solastalgia – The anguish, sense of loss, and powerlessness formed as a result of environmental changes affecting one’s own beloved place, especially the loss of solace once provided by that environment that the person personally equates to being home. The word was coined by psychologist Glenn Albrecht in his book Solastalgia: a new concept in human health and identity.
Eco-depression – The feeling of being depressed due to climate change and its impact around the world. While eco-anxiety and eco-angst are activating emotions that often lead to action or joining the cause in some way, eco-depression is a deactivating emotion.
Eco-nostalgia – The feeling of no longer being able to recognise or relate to a place when one returns to it after a long time due to the consequences of developments or disasters caused by climate change.
“Climate change is creating a generation of climate distress and hopelessness. It is a complex conglomeration of aspects of emotional distress, including depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.”
Vice chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a faculty lead of the Climate Change and Mental Health Task Force at the University of California, San Francisco.