eco-anxiety defined!

“My anxiety attacks began two summers ago. They were mild at first, a low-level unease. But over a period of months they grew steadily worse, morphing into full-fledged fits of panic. I was a wreck.

The sight of an idling car, heat-trapping carbon dioxide spewing from its tailpipe, would send me into an hours-long panic, complete with shaking, the sweats, and staring off into space while others conversed around me.

The same thing happened on overly warm days, like those 60-degree ones here in the Big Apple last January. The culprit, I realized, was all the reporting I’d been doing on global warming—that, and the emotional impact of becoming a first-time parent.

I had come down with a severe case of eco-anxiety—a chronic fear of the environmental future.”

mother nature network, 8 Apr 2009

BYO rock or tree bark!

Eco-anxiety is real, according to some psychologists, and it can really stress you out.

As one eco-anxious reporter described it, “The sight of an idling car, heat-trapping carbon dioxide spewing from the tailpipe, would send me into an hours-long panic, complete with shaking, the sweats, and staring off into space while others conversed around me”

We can’t even escape at the movies. In his 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Vice President Al Gore warned us that we might be a mere decade away from a global environmental disaster.

It was really time to be afraid — very afraid. Therapists who treat eco-anxiety say their patients report a number of general anxiety symptoms, including loss of appetite, irritability, panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, unexplained weakness and actual physical pain.

Some people say they cry uncontrollably at the thought of the polar ice caps melting or of yet another species facing extinction. So what do you do if you are suffering from eco-anxiety? Some people see an eco-therapist.

According to the International Community for Ecopsychology, there are almost 150 ecopsychology practitioners around the world [source: Ecopsychology]. More colleges and universities, like Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., and Prescott College in Tucson, Ariz., have started offering ecopsychology as a major, so the number of trained eco-therapists is likely to grow.

Eco-therapists charge up to $250 an hour to diagnose the cause of your worries and offer solutions.

Some eco-therapists advise their patients to get outside and feel closer to nature, while others recommend that patients bring nature closer to them by carrying around a rock or piece of tree bark.

Stephanie Watson, “How Eco-anxiety Works” 15 October 2008. HowStuffWorks.com.

the perils of climate science

From depression to substance abuse to suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, growing bodies of research in the relatively new field of psychology of global warming suggest that climate change will take a pretty heavy toll on the human psyche as storms become more destructive and droughts more prolonged.

For your everyday environmentalist, the emotional stress suffered by a rapidly changing Earth can result in some pretty substantial anxieties.

Two years ago, Camille Parmesan, a professor at Plymouth University and the University of Texas at Austin, became so “professionally depressed” that she questioned abandoning her research in climate change entirely.

“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan is quoted saying in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.”.

Heat Is Online – originally Madeleine Thomas in Grist.org, Oct. 28, 2014

physician, heal thyself!

“The truth can be terrifying, so terrifying that often we prefer avoidance or lies. So it is with the reality of climate change. Like a diagnosis of terminal cancer, how I wish it wasn’t so. If only we could go on and on, with the dream of endless abundance and growing prosperity.”

“The problems of disease, poverty, and even war, seem dwarfed and solvable, compared to global warming. I am a psychologist, trained to help others with anxiety, depression, and despair, but I too wrestle with these demons. I have worried about the past and the ills that may befall my loved ones. Worries and doubts have kept me awake at night, and reduced my enjoyment of life.”

“I first realised how we were careening towards our doom nine years ago. I read The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery and viewed Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I felt traumatised.”

Lyn Bender, a Melbourne psychologist, Eureka Street, 2 Mar 2014

future of psychology profession assured!

In America, 200 Million People Will Suffer ‘Psychological Distress’ From Climate Change.

A report published by the National Wildlife Foundation finds that the majority of Americans can expect to suffer mental health problems as a result of global warming and warns that our mental health system is not equipped to handle it.

“The interplay between the climate realities we likely face and the potential psychological fallout from them was the subject of a conference convened in Washington D.C., in March 2009,” write Lise van Susteren, MD, and Kevin J. Doyle, JD, introducing their work. “A highly respected group of experts offered insights. Their thoughts, recommendations and supporting evidence are presented in this report.”
Gizmodo Australia, 30 Dec 2015

it’s all in the mind

This week 2,500 of the world’s leading environmental scientists warned politicians of the drastic global warming which will result if governments fail to reduce greenhouse gases. Scientists have warned that the early arrival of Spring may lift people’s spirits but can also trigger migraines. A study has shown temperature rises increase the number of people requiring hospital treatment for debilitating headaches.
The Telegraph (UK), 14 Mar 2009

it’s so scary, I need to see a psychologist!

4.1. Climate change is regarded as the most serious global health threat of the 21st Century (Costello et al., 2009). The major threats, both direct and indirect, come from changing patterns of disease, water and food insecurity, vulnerable shelter and human settlements, extreme climatic events such as more catastrophic bushfires, droughts, floods and cyclones, and population growth and migration.

4.2 The main categories of risks to physical health in Australia come from health impacts of extreme weather events, temperature extremes, vector-borne infectious diseases, food-borne infectious diseases, water-borne infectious diseases and risks from poor water quality, diminished food production, increased in urban air pollution, (Horton & McMichael, 2008)

4.3 The main mental health consequences of climate change will come from direct impacts of extreme weather events, disruptions to the social, economic and demographic determinants of mental health (e.g., from impaired rural livelihoods, increased costs of basic services), and emotional stresses and mental health problems in response to perceptions/fears of climate change and to family stresses.

4.4 The most severe impacts of climate change will fall on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities who have played the smallest part per capita in contributing to the rise in greenhouse gases. Variations in vulnerability to climate change impacts are evident across nations and communities, and also across social class, age, and gender, with women, children, the elderly, and future generations more vulnerable.
The Australian Psychological Society position statement on Psychology and Climate Change, August 2010

therapy_session

deluded about climate change?

Australian psychiatrists have described the first case of “climate change delusion”, a previously unreported illness in which a patient refused to drink water because he “felt guilty” about the effect it would have on the environment.

Dr Joshua Wolf & Dr Robert Salo, of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, treated a 17-year-old patient who believed that “due to climate change, his own water consumption could lead within days to the deaths of millions of people.”

The report, published in the Royal Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, said the case was the first of its kind, directly linking anxiety over climate change to psychosis. Dr Robert Salo said he expected more patients to suffer from the disorder as long as the issue remained on the agenda.
The Telegraph (UK), 11 Jul 2008

that seems clear enough

This strange state of affairs may be rooted in human psychology. As the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it in a 2006 op-ed article in The Los Angeles Times, “Global warming is bad, but it doesn’t make us feel nauseated or angry or disgraced, and thus we don’t feel compelled to rail against it as we do against other momentous threats to our species, such as flag burning.”

People tend to have strong emotions about topics like food and sex, and to create their own moral rules around these emotions, he says. “Moral emotions are the brain’s call to action,” he wrote. “If climate change were caused by gay sex, or by the practice of eating kittens, millions of protesters would be massing in the streets.”
New York Times, 20/2/10

work opportunities for psychologists

For people who feel an acute unease about the future of the planet, a small but growing number of psychotherapists now offer a treatment designed to reduce worries as well as carbon footprints: ecopsychology. “Global warming has added an extra layer of anxiety to what people are already feeling,” said Sandy Shulmire of Portland, Ore., a psychologist and practitioner of ecopsychology.

New York Times, 16 Feb 2008