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Stressed over the future of our planet?

Sackville students take part in a recent climate strike, where they had a chance to voice their concerns and speak out about the government's inaction. Youth are particularly vulnerable to the stress and anxiety associated with the impacts of climate change.
Sackville students take part in a recent climate strike, where they had a chance to voice their concerns and speak out about the government's inaction. Youth are particularly vulnerable to the stress and anxiety associated with the impacts of climate change. - Katie Tower

Ways to cope with anxiety over climate change

SACKVILLE, N.B. —

As ice caps continue to melt and the sea level continues to rise, more people are not only witnessing the danger and devastating impact climate change is having on the world, they are starting to feel its emotional toll.

With the onset of more extreme weather, with the world’s forests being deforested at an alarming rate, with our oceans becoming a plastic wasteland and with the fossil fuel industry not showing any sign of letting up, it’s not surprising to see people are beginning to feel the weight of that burden on their shoulders.

“We are really living in climate change today and it’s getting harder and harder to deny it,” said Amanda Marlin, executive director of EOS Eco-Energy, based in Sackville.

With that realization comes the stress and anxiety over living in that type of world, she said, where there is constant bombardment from every corner about the dire effects of climate change.

“We often look at climate change as a scientific problem or a logical problem, but it is wholly emotional,” said Marie Reinsborough, a clinical therapist from Sackville’s community counselling firm IRIS.

Sackville therapist Marie Reinsborough-Wadden, left, explains how the brain works when people are stressed during a recent workshop on climate stress. Also pictured is fellow therapist Krista Royama.
Sackville therapist Marie Reinsborough-Wadden, left, explains how the brain works when people are stressed during a recent workshop on climate stress. Also pictured is fellow therapist Krista Royama.

Reinsborough said it’s important for people to recognize they are not alone in their stress, that there are others who are feeling the same worries and the same frustrations.

IRIS and EOS Eco-Energy recently partnered to host a workshop focusing on the issue, “to combine action with hope,” said Reinsbrough.

Marlin said she has seen EOS progress over the past five years from an organization whose main focus was on renewable energy, conservation and efficiency projects, then expanding to include climate adaptation measures, then shifting again to partner with emergency measures organizations as a result of flooding issues. Now it’s putting mental health on its list of priorities.

Working in the climate change industry, Marlin said she has seen and heard firsthand the concerns people are feeling over this global issue.

“Whether your house has been flooded, or your route to town has been flooded, or your kids are worried, or you’re overwhelmed by what’s on the news, or you’re wanting to build your dream house near the beach and people are saying that’s not a great idea. . .  there’s just that grief and loss in so many ways.”

Climate stress, she said, comes from all sorts of sources and so it’s important to be able to help people work on these issues and not just “check out from the climate change fight.”

“We want people to be able to have those tools to build mental resiliency … to keep going and keep fighting and keep addressing it and coming up with new ways of doing things.”

Krista Royama, also a therapist from IRIS, said the recent workshop drew powerful conversations around climate change and participants shared significant concerns that were weighing them down.

• Feeling isolated and alone in their actions or concerns.

• Wanting more people to feel concerned and panicked like they do.

• Feeling like they’re not doing enough and wanting to change the system but not knowing how.

• Grieving the climate while also living in the trauma.

• Responsibility they felt they were leaving with the children.

• Tired of being told to have hope without enough action.

• Challenge of focusing on individual actions and not feeling it’s enough when the real challenge is with the system, the governments and the big corporations.

Ways to cope with climate stress

Workshops such as these are a great first step towards easing people’s minds, said Royama. She said getting together as a group with people who are feeling the same worries can help with the isolation they are feeling on tackling these issues.

“It’s a pretty heavy issue to deal with on your own,” she said.

Royama said it’s also important people try to find a balance between what they can control and what they can’t so they don’t get overwhelmed.

Selfcare is also an essential coping strategy to relieving stress, said Royama – anything from doing yoga, to getting a massage, to taking the time to write in a journal.

Reinsborough explained a little bit of stress can actually be healthy, as it keeps us alert and productive. But too much stress can result in serious physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms, from fatigue to headaches, anger to anxiety, unhealthy eating, drug and alcohol use.

She said in moments of high anxiety and stress, people need to try and take those intense feelings in and acknowledge them.

“Instead of shutting down, it actually should be a catalyst to move forward with intentional redirection,” she said.

Royama also offers a STOPP method technique in dealing with stressors where people are asked to Stop and step back from the situation in your mind, Take a breath, Observe, Pull back and Put in some perspective, and Practise what works.

Royama did point out, however, that what may be an effective coping strategy for one person, however, may not work at all for another. They are unique to the individual.

Examples of coping strategies

• Take deep breaths

• Play sports

•Take a quick walk

• Practice yoga

• Listen to music

• Talk to a friend

• Think of something happy or visualize your favourite place

• Get enough sleep

• Read a book

• Write in a journal

• Colour

• Meditate

• Use a stress ball

• Give someone a hug

• Garden

• Keep a positive attitude

• Make a gratitude list

• Smile

• Drink some tea

• Compliment yourself

Iris Community Counselling & Consulting offers mental health services including individual, family and group counselling for youth living alongside a variety of mental health issues.

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