Managing Climate Change Anxiety

Ocean waves crashing on rocky shore
Photo by Katie Musial on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

As a child, I learned that I could be an environmentalist by recycling, picking up litter, and turning off lights when not in use. I still do my part (biking instead of driving when possible, gardening, etc.), and I know that the change needed depends on larger systems. My family takes action, but my children realize that it is not enough. Wildfires and massive hurricanes worry them. I looked to experts to help guide me in managing our fears. Hopefully, their suggestions can support your family as well.

Celebrate the beauty outdoors. My family and I spend lots of time outdoors. It feels good, but I’ve also learned that this helps instill a love for nature in my children. They are more likely to understand the need to protect green spaces because they feel connected to them. We can talk about the interconnectedness of it all, of our responsibility and place in nature. We don’t get out to the coast or the mountains as often as I would like, but spending any time outside can provide these opportunities. “Look at those birds! I haven’t seen them in a long time.” or “The big Oak tree has all its leaves now.” Noticing our environment can help us get outside our heads and positively impact our mental and physical health.

Talk about it. Many people throughout the world are already familiar with changes in their local environment. None of us have escaped news about it, children included. It can feel frightening to bring up a seemingly hopeless subject, but acknowledging our collective anxiety may help. We are providing our children an outlet to share their feelings and release some worry. Provide your family a safe space to connect about big emotions: the joys you share and the despair. By doing this, you can strengthen your family bonds and teach your family that all feelings are okay. It might be helpful to learn more about the science behind climate change. Your children may be learning some of this in school, but you can supplement at home and learn together. 

Acknowledge anxiety and teach coping strategies. If your child’s (or your!) fears start to seem overwhelming, recognize this and help them with their feelings. You won’t be able to “fix the problem.” Use this as an opportunity to model coping strategies. We can say things such as, “This is hard and scary. Let’s take a break. We’ll step outside, put our hands on our hearts, and take some deep breaths together.” You will teach your children how to handle life’s big emotions and build your connection. 

Become a helper. Mr. Rogers reminds us to “look for the helpers” when times are challenging. Research shows that if we become the helpers, our anxiety and feelings of helplessness decrease. Our empowered selves notice differences that we can make, especially collectively. Volunteer together or encourage your child to involve themselves with an environmental action group. Many schools have “green teams” or other environmental clubs. Connecting with others can have a positive impact on our mental health. We also realize that others are working together on climate change. We’re not alone; many people are trying to solve these problems. There is hope when we build resilience. Taking breaks and finding joy in our lives is crucial to sustaining the work. It is easy to become overwhelmed. Watch for signs of fatigue and restore your energy.

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Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup. 

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