As more information about our changing environment is learned and documented, it's not uncommon for individuals to experience symptoms of climate anxiety and climate grief. These feelings of loss and sadness over environmental change can look very similar to the grieving process one may go through after the loss of a loved one, although this type of grief has a higher chance of being ignored and invalidated by others.
What Is Climate Grief?
Your hometown, greater community, and the world's overall environmental health can impact thoughts and feelings tremendously and can lead to intense bouts of anxiety, chronic anxiety, and full-blown grief. With an overabundance of information related to climate change, you may feel overwhelmed with painful and stressful information that may feel incredibly difficult to process.
Examples of Climate Grief Triggers
Climate grief, like all types of grief, will vary in terms of intensity, time felt, and symptoms experienced. Each individual will have unique triggers that can lead to climate grief. For some individuals, climate information that is deeply personal can create feelings of loss, while for others a global crisis can cause intense feelings of grief. Some examples of climate grief triggers include:
- The loss of your hometown after experiencing a natural disaster
- The loss and destruction of beautiful habitats
- Fear of environmental wellness and overall habitat safety
- The extinction or near extinction of your favorite plant or animal species
- Major natural landmarks that are being slowly destroyed
- Seeing signs of landmark memorials that are no longer present
- Noticing the effects of climate change in your every day life
- Overloaded on climate change-related media
Who Can Experience Climate Grief?
Children, teens, and adults can all experience climate grief. Although very little ones tend to focus more on themselves, they may notice changes in their environment that impact them, and this may lead to some questions that are difficult to answer. Teens and adults may feel overwhelmed by the information they read about, watch, or hear, but have a challenging time articulating how this impacts their emotions. Many people may not even realize that they are experiencing climate grief and just generally feel moodier, more combative, and more stressed out. If you have children or teens who want to talk about climate change, be sure to do so in an age appropriate way. For example:
- With little ones pointing out environmental differences, you can validate their observations, ask them if they have any feelings about the change, and answer any subsequent questions they may have in simple ways.
- With teens, depending on their maturity level, you can discuss more serious issues with them, but be sure to instill a sense of hope when it comes to shifts you can make as a family that can positively impact the environment.
- With teens and kids, it's important to teach them about proactive steps to take when it comes to working through their emotions, as well as making eco-friendly changes at home.
Keep in mind that individuals who are empathic and attuned to their environment are often the ones (or the first ones) to experience this type of grieving process. While it may feel difficult to be an empath, those who are this connected to the world around them are often the ones who are instrumental in creating positive change.
Symptoms of Climate Grief
Climate grief is not currently recognized as an official diagnosis, but it's still a helpful term to use when it comes to labeling this specific type of grieving process. Grief looks different for everyone and there is no right or wrong way to feel when it comes to climate related grieving. Climate grief can bring up a variety of symptoms which may include:
- Experiencing obsessive thoughts about climate change
- Constantly thinking about or seeking out information about certain environmental issues
- Feeling helpless when it comes to making a difference
- Feeling a loss of control over your home or the greater environment
- Feeling a deep sadness for the climate change and environmental shifts that have taken place
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Experiencing appetite changes
- Experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress
- Having anger outbursts
- Fear of what the future for certain habitats or environments may look like
Climate Grief and Environmental Anxiety
Environmental anxiety often preempts climate related grieving. Environmental anxiety may look like feeling on edge, nervous, and stressed about environmental related issues. This can include both local issues, and global. Environmental anxiety can lead to climate grief and climate grief can fuel environmental anxiety creating a painful cycle.
Strategies for Coping With Climate Grief
Climate grief may feel difficult to recognize at first. Paying attention to what media and information you/your kids are consuming is super important in terms of monitoring your/their triggers. Some interventions for climate grief include:
- Find small ways to make a difference in your home, in your town, and globally. Find ways that make you feel good and acknowledge that you are trying to make a difference and that small changes can lead to meaningful environmental shifts.
- Create a mantra for yourself and your family that focuses on striving to make a difference in your environment.
- The GreaterGood site allows you to click on a cause that speaks to you and pre-existing sponsors donate money to the cause. This is an easy activity you can do that takes a few seconds, doesn't cost anything, and helps important causes receive needed funding.
- If possible, limit or take a break from social media and shows that focus on climate-related disasters. It's absolutely okay to stay up to date with climate related issues and news, but it's important to figure out what your own personal limit is before you begin to feel emotionally overwhelmed, stressed, and/or helpless about the circumstances.
- Speak with a therapist who understands this type of grief and validates your experience. Reach out for help immediately if you are having a hard time with acts of daily living and/or are having thoughts of self-harm.
- Acknowledge that this is the type of grief you are experiencing and allow yourself to actually move through the grieving process.
- Speak with trusted others who are able to support you and validate your experience.
- Minimize confrontations with others who invalidate your feelings and try not to engage with them to prove your feelings are real. This can end up making you feel even worse. Your feelings are real and come from a deep place of caring and concern.
- Create your own climate grief meetup with those in your area or organize an online group to discuss your feelings and thoughts.
- Process your feelings in healthy ways such as journaling, painting, listening to music, and drawing.
- Join a local support group. If you are unable to find one locally, you can search for support groups for solastalgia, as well as environmental stress or natural disasters.
The Difference Between Climate Grief and Solastalgia
Solastalgia occurs when you feel heightened levels of distress when your environment has gone through damaging changes that impact you, your family, and possibly your livelihood. Unlike environmental grief that can be experienced by those non-dependent on a certain environment, solastalgia solely focuses on feelings of stress and despair that are directly tied to an environment that individuals depend on to survive. Solastagia can lead to environmental stress and environmental grief.
Understanding Climate Grief
It is clear that environmental health can be linked to one's overall psychological wellbeing and that it is totally possible to experience climate grief. It's important to take time to understand your unique grieving process and to find healthy ways to take care of yourself during this time.