Overcoming climate anxiety in a warming world

Tips on finding community and taking action when things seem hopeless.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes 

Climate anxiety, is exactly what it sounds like — “feelings of fear, helplessness and guilt amid the climate crisis”. Also, dear reader, please note that we are NOT helpless, and that’s the main thing we want to drill in while acknowledging our feelings are valid.

Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step: 

  1. READ: What does climate anxiety feel like?
  2. WATCH: How do we pull ourselves out of a climate anxiety spiral?
  3. ACT: How can we take action to conquer our climate anxiety? (Yes, you can do it! We believe in you!)
  4. REFLECT: Is climate anxiety an overwhelmingly white phenomenon?

Spoiler alert: we can fix the situation we're in. This pit of climate and eco-anxiety may feel like an endless tunnel, but there's so much opportunity. Remember—you are a part of the solution! 

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

Can therapy treat climate anxiety?

🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.

Climate anxiety describes feelings of fear, helplessness, and guilt amid the climate crisis. So, does this fall under the suite of topics a mental health professional can help with? 

Here are some takeaways from the article, ‘I was enjoying a life that was ruining the world’: Can therapy treat climate anxiety? It describes a few different people and their journeys with climate anxiety. We've included some quotes from the article below, and of course, the best way to take action at this step is to read it yourself!

You'll learn that:

  • 🌎 What can climate anxiety feel like? 'For Knapp, it was the feeling of having “the rug pulled from under my feet; that I was enjoying a life that was ruining the world”. For Natasha James, 33, a training manager in Portsmouth, it was reading article after article in a paralysing spiral: “It would get to the stage where I would freeze.”’
  • 👥 How many people experience this? Basically, 60% of young people! So if you’re feeling anxious, you’re in the majority. 'The biggest ever scientific study on climate anxiety and young people, published last year in the Lancet, found that nearly six in 10 people aged 16 to 25 were very or extremely worried about climate breakdown, nearly half of them reported climate distress or anxiety affecting their daily lives, and three-quarters agreed that “the future is frightening”’.
  • ❤️🩹 Can therapy help? ’It is perhaps surprising to hear Weintrobe – a psychoanalyst – say that while there is a role for therapy in addressing climate anxiety, it is limited. We need to normalise this distress, she says, but not by pretending it’s not there, or shouldn’t be. “It’s very perverse that normalising has come to mean getting rid of anything that’s disturbing. Can we make it normal that we are very disturbed and bothered by what is going on, and help each other?” She recommends meeting to talk in groups about climate anxiety.’ Guess what? We know a group you can talk about climate anxiety with 😉

So, to answer the question, yes and no. Therapy provides a good foundation for mental health solutions, but we have to accept the reality of what we're doing to the Earth and take steps to address it. Major problems require major solutions, and that's exciting for us - there's so many ways we can get involved!

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.

Overcome climate anxiety by fixing it

🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.

First of all, let’s get some things out of the way. Yes, climate change is bad. Yes, it’s caused by humans. Yes, we’re on track to warm the planet at almost apocalyptic levels... as of now. And yes,

We. Can. Fix. It.

We'll reiterate one more time: to truly build the world we want to live in, we still have to make massive shifts in the way we conduct ourselves. We must consume less and coexist instead of extract. That being said, here’s some good news that no one ever told me before.

This is all from the video below.

Here's what you'll learn:

  • 🪨 Coal is going bye bye die die. Coal burning in many countries, including “emerging” countries like India and China, has plummeted and/or dropped off. Since 2015, ~75% of planned coal plants have been canceled! This is largely thanks to sweeping progress in renewable energy tech — wind has gotten 3x cheaper in only a decade.
  • 🌞 It’s party time for renewable energy + battery storage. You heard about wind above (no, not the literal wind above you, but I guess that too) — now let’s talk solar! It’s gotten TEN times cheaper, which makes it outcompete fossil fuel plants. And those guys get subsidies from the government. Solar is still winning. The challenge is how we can store all the energy we’re getting from the wind and sun and... * gestures around * and I have good news. Battery prices have decreased 97% in the past thirty years.
  • 💰 You can finally get rich without getting dirty! For the first time, emissions ≠ economic growth. In the past, to get richer, you had to emit more. The domestic CO2 output of rich countries is falling without a major recession, which is apparently Not A Thing Based On History.

Also, some bonus content: check out this interview one of our readers Quinn did with Dr. Britt Wray, author of Generation Dread. In the podcast episode, Dr. Wray focuses on this topic of climate anxiety/eco dread and approaches it with nuance and hope. We also loved her article adapted from the book.

Sometimes, good news is what we may need to pull ourselves out of a climate anxiety spiral, so let's remember together that we are in a better place than we were a decade ago to solve the big problems we're facing.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.

How to take climate action that matters

🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!

Now let's get to work! Your menu to take action is below. We with the Climate Journal Project, whom you can follow on Instagram for free journal prompts and helpful eco-anxiety content!

1. Go to therapy, bro.
Seriously, go to therapy. Therapists can't fix climate change (well, they can if we're all working together), but they can provide you with the foundation you need to navigate these issues while investing in your well-being.

Here are some resources featuring climate-informed mental health professionals:

2. Put your money where your mouth is.
If you care about fighting climate change, I truly believe the easiest, high-impact step you can take is to ensure your money aligns with your values.

This is the step-by-step process our founder, Nivi, took:

  • Understood how much of her money is destroying the things she cares about through her bank and savings account, thanks to ran.org
  • Opened a values-aligned bank using Mighty Deposits (you can also use bank.green and Bank Black USA)
  • Opened an account with Carbon Collective and moved over her entire corporate 401(k) from her old company, which was invested in many fossil-fuel-stuff
  • Getting Soapbox to (eventually) host an employee 401(k) with Carbon Collective. You can do that here! Just book a time and ask all the q’s you have, whether you just started your job or you’re the CEO.

3. Focus on the three biggest drivers of individual action.
Cutting out flights, driving, and meat (especially beef) are the three biggest drivers for individual emissions. Pick a category!

4. Join a justice-oriented online community.
We're not just saying this because Soapbox Project runs a community, but that IS a huge reason. Working collectively with others has literally changed my life and opened my eyes to new possibilities. One of our members brought me comfort food after learning I had COVID, so we’re not just throwing that word “community” around lightly — we really care about each other and the planet. We hope you join us!

5. Get involved locally.
Whether or not you’re planning on joining our Soapbox community where we put you in touch with local action events, getting involved on the city or even neighborhood level is a must. This one took Nivi some time, but she finally joined her local Chamber of Commerce. Some other ideas for local action: library, farmers market, reading at a primary school, neighborhood council, mutual aid group, greenway group...Also, if you’re already in the Soapbox community and you haven’t seen a local action thing in your neighborhood, make a post in our chat channel and someone will chime in (or I’ll research it post-vacation). Also, join your local buy nothing group!

6. Take political action.
We love Climate Changemakers for this. (And they’re a community, and so is Buy Nothing, so really, community is 🔑) If you are new to taking political action, Climate Changemakers is THE easiest way to get started. No joke. Some of the larger political action groups — you can at least start by signing up for their emails — are 350.org, Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and Sunrise Movement. It’s important that you find a group with a local chapter so you can make friends and make the most difference!

Most important, don't forget to take care of yourself. You are needed, and you are part of the solution. We promise.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.

Race and climate anxiety: Are we really talking about race again?

Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!

🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?

Yes! We are talking about race again 🎉🥳! Let’s work through this topic together! We will focus on solutions and solidarity, not shame.

Knowing what we know now about climate anxiety, it’s time to zoom out and ask what might be an uncomfortable question. We invite you to sit in the discomfort and name the emotions you’re feeling. The question we’re zooming out to ask is: Is climate anxiety an overwhelmingly white phenomenon?

Here is the article to add to your reflection. Instead of summarizing it as we generally do in these bite-sized Action Packs, I’m going to encourage you to read it, and below, I’ll pull out some key questions.

First, let’s start with a quote from the article:

Today’s progressives espouse climate change as the “greatest existential threat of our time,” a claim that ignores people who have been experiencing existential threats for much longer. Slavery, colonialism, ongoing police brutality—we can’t neglect history to save the future.

It’s okay if you don’t have answers to the questions below. We must start by voicing the questions, making room for dissent, and carving paths forward for solutions.

Note: these are all taken directly from the article unless otherwise stated. It’s a good time to get your journal and pick a question to start with.

  • If people of color are more concerned about climate change than white people, why is the interest in climate anxiety so white?
  • Is climate anxiety a form of white fragility or even racial anxiety? Put another way, is climate anxiety just code for white people wishing to hold onto their way of life or get “back to normal,” to the comforts of their privilege?
  • As climate refugees are framed as a climate security threat, will the climate-anxious recognize their role in displacing people from around the globe?
  • How can we make sure that climate anxiety is harnessed for climate justice?

And finally: “Instead of asking “What can I do to stop feeling so anxious?”, “What can I do to save the planet?” and “What hope is there?”, people with privilege can be asking “Who am I?” and “How am I connected to all of this?”

This is a BIG topic, and if it brought up some intense feelings for you, you’re not alone.

If there's only ONE thing you're taking away from this topic, WE hope it's the importance of community and finding your people. Of course, the Soapbox community is here for you, but whatever you're interested in, there is a home for you somewhere. People are ready to support you, and you're needed here.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.

Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

We're ready when you are.

Get our free bite-sized climate action plans before you go!

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