Dear Eartha, I’ve been feeling so anxious about the effects of climate change. What can I do? Any ideas or suggestions to calm my fears about the future of our planet?
The impact to our mental and physical health don’t usually come to mind when we talk about the climate crisis. Referred to as “eco-anxiety” or “climate anxiety,” these impacts are very real. As extreme weather and ecological destruction become more frequent, so too do our feelings of fear, helplessness and emotional distress.
Eco-anxiety has caused some to forgo having children, and a 2021 global study of youths ages 16-25 found that 77% were frightened for their future. A long-term poll of residents in western states showed serious concern of wildfire risks and water supply has grown dramatically over the past 10 years.
The American Psychiatric Association has now recognized climate change as a serious threat to public health and mental well-being. Studies by the American Psychiatric Association, the Institute of Global Health Innovation and more have shown that catastrophic disasters — such as the recent Marshall Fire or the deadly tornadoes in parts of Tennessee and Kentucky — not only leave physical and ecological destruction, but also a severe mental toll. Loss of one’s home, job and community can cause a significant increase in stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Slower, long-term impacts to social and economic structures have shown to have a similar effect. In Summit County, progressively shorter ski seasons and prolonged drought threaten our economy and quality of life. The mental stress this inflicts with the potential loss of livelihood, sense of security or forced migration can be devastating. Longer-term risks of stress and anxiety can weaken our immune system, increased substance abuse, and led to more serious mental health issues. If we need another reason to address this climate emergency, we have one.
What are we eco-anxious humans to do? While hiding under the covers with Netflix might be most appealing, ignoring the reality of the climate crisis will not make us feel better. We must take action. Here are a few things you can do right now.
Give yourself a little peace of mind and get prepared for the next potential disaster. In Summit County, this means preparing your wildfire evacuation plan, learning ways to mitigate wildfires and reviewing your home insurance to make sure you have the coverage you need. Look into energy efficiency and structural upgrades to your home to protect against more extreme weather.
Champion a cause you feel strongly about. Want to tackle plastics? Check out the proposed bill on Extended Producer Responsibility. Concerned about our water? Learn about a bill which would pay people to remove their grass. Further educate yourself on an environmental issue you care about, and then rally local policy makers and the community to act.
Combat your climate anxiety by building resilience. This means creating a strong social and supportive network. Connect with your neighbors, maintain friendships and get comfortable asking for help. Gather to support conservation to remind ourselves we are not alone in our anxiety for the fate of our planet nor in our desire to protect it. And what better way to build up your social support than a good party.
Party for the Planet
High Country Conservation Center’s biggest fundraiser of the year, Party for the Planet, is coming Friday, March 4, and it’s a great way to relieve some eco-anxiety. Presented by EpicPromise, BGV Gives and Pinnacle Gives, Party for the Planet takes place at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Breckenridge. It features beer tastings from five local breweries, live music, a stellar silent auction and an awards ceremony recognizing inspiring sustainable champions.
Admission includes beer or wine samplings, live music, a custom glass, and a sustainably focused vegetarian meal. Tickets are on sale now, so pull back those covers and get yourself a ticket. All proceeds benefit local resource conservation and climate action.
Summit County is home to an incredible collective of passionate individuals and dedicated businesses working together to address the climate crisis. Our planet needs all of us to fight through our fears and anxieties to address the challenges ahead. When we act to protect our environment, we are also protecting the physical and mental health of ourselves and those in our community.