A landmark survey of 10,000 respondents ages 16-25 suggests that climate anxiety—a chronic fear of environmental doom—is taking an outsized psychological toll on the young, especially when compared to Gen X and Boomers. “Such high levels of distress, functional impact and feelings of betrayal will inevitably impact the mental health of children and young people,” wrote the authors of the study.
The generational difference makes sense. Younger Americans are more likely to live long enough to face some of the most severe environmental shifts, such as rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities, more extreme heat waves on the West Coast, and stronger, more numerous hurricanes in the Southeast. Planning even the simplest outlines of one’s own future becomes difficult and uncertain: Will the job I want still exist? Should I even have children?
Young people are increasingly concerned about climate change, with a recent study finding a clear majority ‘very’ or ‘extremely worried.’ This can have an adverse impact on the daily lives of young people and drive feelings of anger, hopelessness, and guilt.
So how can young people deal with climate anxiety?
One of the most effective strategies for easing climate anxiety is to focus on what you can control, and understand that no one person can end climate change. Young people often feel as if they aren’t making a difference. But this is a global crisis, which is not something that one person can change with individual actions. Focusing on what you can control might mean deciding to become a vegetarian, or shifting to an electric vehicle. It could mean joining a climate focused organization or speaking with your friends or family members about why climate is important to you. But it is important to manage your own anxiety by recognizing that this isn’t the burden of one individual.
It is also important for young people to take some time away from thinking about climate change. The news can feel overly negative and cause debilitating distress. Take a break from “doomscrolling” and unplug for your own mental health. Do things that you enjoy. You aren’t going to betray the movement if you take some time to restore your sanity. Decompressing can help you recharge and keep you energized and focused for returning to climate advocacy when you are mentally ready.
Climate anxiety is relatively new because the climate crisis itself is relatively new. Accommodating and understanding this new state of mind will take effort, including empathy from older adults and self-care and mutual support among the young.
One hopeful aspect of the climate fight is that an increasing number of Americans view it as an important issue and are joining activist groups and reaching out to their state and federal representatives. A climate-focused community is being built, however haltingly and grudgingly. Building on that progress can offer hope for those who will live in that community.