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Managing Existential Climate Stress

Aug 3, 2022 | Advice, Corporate Wellness, Counseling, Family, LGBTQ, Love, Relationships, Social Media, Staff, Strategies, Support, Therapy

Key Takeaways:

    1. Climate change and climate disaster has been a seemingly constant presence in our mainstream news lately. 
    2. Over the last few years, phrases like “existential dread” or “climate stress” have entered into our vernacular to categorize and make sense of the complex feelings that individuals are experiencing about the world at large. 
    3. Feeling the weight of the world as an individual can be overwhelming. This blog contains some guidance for how to manage existential dread and stress about climate change.
    4. Try to think about what actions are actually up to you. What can you do in your neighborhood or city to contribute to positive change? Taking realistic action is one way to manage stress and have a sense of agency in a complex world.

Over the last week, the news has reflected climate disasters happening around our country: fires in California, flooding in Kentucky, and the great salt lakes of Utah drying up. However you get your news, it can be overwhelming to learn of such devastation happening around us. Over the last few years, phrases like “existential dread” or “climate stress” have entered into our vernacular to categorize and make sense of the complex feelings that individuals are experiencing about the world at large. And while there is some relief in knowing that there are enough other people out there who are experiencing the same feelings to create a new vocabulary around it, having tools to process through those feelings might be helpful too.

Pause. One characteristic of existential dread and climate stress are the spiraling thoughts that deposit us into an unpleasant (and constructed) reality. When these thoughts begin, imagine yourself literally hitting a pause button. It can be hard to contribute meaningful work to climate justice efforts when operating from a place of fear or mental exhaustion. Allow yourself to exist in a calm mind so that you have the energy to act.

Set Boundaries. Boundaries are the distances we create between people, between news, between places so that we can still love in a way that is safe and sustainable for us. If climate change and climate disaster are topics that you care about and want to continue to care about for a long time, then setting boundaries with how much news you read in a day (as an example) will help you with that longevity.

Grieve Freely. Part of climate change and climate disaster is loss. There have been losses of human life, of cherished homes and community space, of pets and farms, and of feeling secure on earth. Allow yourself to grieve these losses freely. Even if the losses are not yours personally, you are part of a world that is losing and that grief touches all of us.

Open Up. You are probably not the only person in your life struggling with these feelings or feeling stuck in how you affect change. Talk to those in your life that you trust about how you’re feeling and be willing to accept support. This can also be one way of finding out about activism opportunities in your community that feel meaningful to take part in. Change is not accomplished one person at a time – so there is no logic in putting all the pressure on yourself or to go through change making alone.

Accept. Recognize that climate change and climate disaster is bigger than just one individual or one organizing community. Work towards a realistic understanding of what work is yours and what work is out of your hands. Accepting this distinction might cause you to feel loss and grief. Welcome those feelings and process through them.

Appreciate. Make space for the beauty and strength of our world. Go for a walk, listen to sounds of the ocean or the chirps of birds. Cloud watch. Not to be corny, but go smell the flowers. This is not a fight that will be won by submitting to a deficit perspective.

Rachel Levy, LLMSW

Author: Rachel Levy, LLMSW

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*This blog was created with the help of Anton Babushkin