Eco anxiety: what it is, why it comes and what to do

Climate change worries everyone, of course. But some people are so obsessed with it that they develop a real psychological disorder, a chronic fear of environmental ruin. Although it has not yet been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the reference manual for mental health professionals, the so-called eco-anxiety can be considered a pathology of the psyche in all respects, because it is able to shake the nerves of those afflicted by it, preventing him from imagining a future and causing him to manifest sadness, anger, fear, stress, depression, panic attacks and even suicidal behavior.

“All psychological disorders go hand in hand with cultural, environmental and social transformations, so eco-anxiety represents a relatively new phenomenon, given that the effects of climate change have only become evident and important in recent years”, he reflects the doctor Michela France, psychologist and psychotherapist at GVM – City of Lecce Hospital. “Among other things, especially at the beginning, the impact of these changes has been studied only from the physical point of view, for example in terms of respiratory or cardiovascular diseases, neglecting instead the effects on mental health”.

What is eco-anxiety

Global warming, sea level rise, natural disasters and extreme weather events are the main sources of concern for those suffering from eco-anxiety, which has not yet been scientifically defined, but – like all ailments anxiety – it can be associated with intense physical reactionswhich include panic attacks, insomnia and obsessive thoughts. Since this is a psychological problem, also in this case there are some vulnerability factors, that is characteristic traits that make the problem more prone to manifestation: congenital predisposition, pre-existing brain dysfunctions, biochemical imbalances and so on. “Also, eco-anxiety appears especially hit generation Zthat is, those born between 1995 and 2010, or the populations most exposed to environmental problems because they reside in areas where extreme climatic events such as hurricanes, floods, fires and prolonged droughts often occur “.

Who hits

Like all forms of anxiety, even the ecological one can affect both sexes indiscriminately, but the women seem more vulnerable. “Studies have shown a greater” fragility “even of environmental activists or people who work in the field of sustainability, despite having special resources that increase their resilience, such as the sense of self-efficacy that makes them feel capable of intervening, of being able do something, ”says the expert. Logically, eco-anxiety is more frequent in communities where temperatures and extreme weather events affect agriculture or livestock, which may make up the vast majority of income: “Think of countries like India or Sweden, where the rate of suicides has significantly increased ”. A study carried out by the American Psychological Association and published in 2019 on the The Guardian has shown that survivors of natural disasters, where they may have lost their homes, families, possessions or businesses, have an enormous increase in depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and suicide.

How to recognize it

“Eco-anxiety can manifest itself with panic attacks and sudden fear, daily episodes of anguish and despair or perhaps through the perception of not being able to have children, because the idea of ​​giving birth to new lives does not appear ethical due to the future quality of life », says Dr France. “Since this is an emerging psychological phenomenon, however, there is no clear and well-defined clinical picture, so each patient can show different and personal symptoms”.

How to deal with eco-anxiety

Like all negative emotions, eco-anxiety must be faced and experienced not only as a problem but also as a productive resource, to be managed constructively. «This means that the force of our fear must be” invested “in activities they help manage climate change, for example by helping environmental voluntary associations to collect waste on beaches or avoiding wasting water and electricity in everyday life », suggests Dr. Francia. “This social commitment it allows you to channel your discomfort and make it less impactful on a psychophysical level “.

Furthermore, since overexposure to disturbing news on the ecological crisis can fuel climate-anxiety, it is better to avoid excess information in newspapers or on TV, which risk having a traumatic impact on those predisposed to anxiety. “We should not even be afraid to discuss and express their discomfort with loved ones, because sharing concerns helps to make them less cumbersome”, concludes the expert. “If you then realize that you are not able to manage the discomfort, which reaches the point of limiting or making you depressed, it is better to contact a psychotherapy specialist to find a way out”.