Megan Anderson’s Finding Balance In Caring For Yourself And The Planet

It always starts with a 30-minute phone call. I introduce myself to the stranger on the other end and welcome them to the consultation process, quickly sketching out what to expect from such a brief interaction. Then, I offer up a gentle invitation. I ask for a glimpse of what brings them to therapy and wonder, “What was the moment you thought you might benefit from the therapy space?”

As a millennial therapist, I can only imagine how people may have responded to this initial bid for connection a decade ago. Lately, I increasingly hear strangers practically rattle off their experiences with anxiety and depression as a result of what is happening in the world around them. This happens before we even have our first official session penciled in the calendar.

Of course, these disclosures are understandable. The world has undoubtedly given us a handful of reasons to feel distressed in the last several years. Ever-growing fears regarding climate change are certainly on that list. The American Psychological Association identified this issue as one of many emerging therapy trends in 2020.

What I see unfolding in the therapy space mirrors recent statistics, especially as it relates to how climate change is explicitly affecting our mental health. Data from Climate Change in the American Mind (2021) indicates that most American adults endorse some degree of concern over global warming. 70% of the study’s participants report feeling at least “somewhat worried, and of those participants, 35% state they are “very worried.”

Beyond a sense of worry, people exhibit grief, despair, hopelessness, instability, traumatic responses, substance use, and suicidality in response to climate change and disasters. A global research study published in 2021 by The Lancet revealed that over 50% of young people surveyed also felt a sense of sadness, anger, powerlessness, helplessness, and guilt. Most participants remarked that their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and overall functioning.

The climate crisis and its effects on our well-being are becoming a universal experience. We are far from alone in what we are facing. Neighbors, teachers, family members, and even therapists are walking through this messy landscape together. As we recognize this more, there are a few tangible strategies we can turn to lessen our distress and instill hope inside and outside the therapy space.

Lean into rudimentary mindfulness and self-compassion.
Take in what is happening in manageable doses. When your thoughts are too drastic, or the emotions that arise are too debilitating, repeatedly ground yourself in the present. How is climate change — or your thoughts about it — impacting you in this very moment? You may also gently invite yourself to turn away from these concerns for a little while. Remind yourself you can always come back to them later.

Capitalize on your emotions.
Deeply acknowledging the reality of climate change is overwhelming. If you notice energy stemming from your reactions to climate change, seize the opportunity. Our reactions have the potential to motivate us towards action, and creativity is a healthy response to both existential and climate crises. Find concrete ways to make different choices or enact change within your grasp. Consider looking at your daily activities and hobbies for ideas. There is no need to overdo it here; aim to be a “good enough” global citizen.

Create a sense of community.
Vow to have more conversations with familiar people about your hopes and fears related to climate change. If you find yourself in good company, try hosting a gathering of people in your neighborhood, identify the impact of climate change on your community, and brainstorm ways to directly make a difference where you live. These connections can foster catharsis, inspiration, and a sense of belonging, benefitting our mental health.

Whichever way you choose to anchor yourself in this world crisis, we must find balance in caring both for ourselves and the environment around us as we navigate something so significant.

Looking for more guidance? Contact us to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our therapists, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article by: Megan Anderson, LPC (published in the Daily Herald)