How to cope with eco anxiety in the age of climate doom

It’s time to stop doomscrolling and start organizing


The rhetoric around climate change on social media has taken a turn. As temperatures surge and extreme weather events batter communities, straight-up denial has given way to nihilistic “doomer” messaging that claims we’re powerless to save the Earth. Some posts are takedowns of climate solutions—for example, assertions that clean energy just won’t work—while others claim that humanity is facing near extinction.

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The rise of doomer messaging could prove particularly unsettling for those experiencing climate anxiety, or the emotional, mental, or physical distress sparked by the climate crisis and its wide-reaching impacts. According to a 2022 survey by Yale University and George Mason University, around 10% of American adults report some kind of climate anxiety several days a week, and a 2021 survey published in The Lancet Planetary Health found that more than 80% of people aged 16 to 25 years were at least moderately worried about human-caused climate change.

One key to keeping doomers from getting us down: separating anxiety from flat-out nihilism—the latter of which promotes a dangerous falsehood, says Josh Ettinger, a climate change communication researcher at George Mason University. “There’s a difference between feeling anxious, which I think is an absolutely justified feeling, versus having the incorrect belief that there’s nothing we can do about climate change,” he says. 

While even the hardiest of tree-huggers may succumb to internet land mines designed to burn us out and delay action, we can take concrete steps to alleviate those anxieties—and make a difference in the process. Here’s what you can do to remedy doomer-induced stress:

Talk it out

You can work through feelings of distress by chatting with trusted people in your network such as family and friends, Ettinger suggests. Through his research on how people discuss climate change, he has found that individuals often underestimate how much the others in our lives care about addressing this existential threat. “The more we talk about it, the more we can address that elephant in the room and find ways forward,” he says.

It may also help to seek out positive spaces online, such as virtual support groups. The Mental Health and Climate Change Alliance, for instance, recommends the Climate Journal Project and the Climate Tic Talk Circle. “It can have a lot of negative impacts, but social media provides people with the opportunity to find like-minded communities, and I think that’s particularly useful in these cases,” says Susan Clayton, a conservation psychologist at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Put your phone down

When things feel particularly bleak, doomscrolling won’t do the planet (or us) any good. It’s important to identify the specific types of content that can trigger your anxiety—is it clips of wildfires, or perhaps images of extreme flooding? Instead of continuing to engage as your worries spike, Clayton recommends stepping away from your tech and opting for a mood-boosting activity like going for a walk to stop yourself from dwelling, or ruminating, on the things that cause you distress. 

Experts have identified a range of techniques to help avoid rumination and potentially stave off catastrophic thinking. They suggest meditating, finding a distraction like drawing, and pinpointing what precisely you can (or can’t) change. “It’s a self-reflection to understand your own responses,” says Clayton. Once you’ve done that, you’ll know when to shift attention toward things that create a more positive emotional response, “so you’re not thinking so much about climate change for a little while.” 

Get involved

Beyond processing our feelings, we can channel them outward to fuel action. When speaking with activists and individuals from the Global South, Clayton has seen rising tendencies toward anger—which can replace our anxiety and motivate powerful collective responses. “It’s directed toward others rather than grief or anxiety, which are really all about staying in your own head,” she says.

In fact, coming together with others can prove particularly helpful. Research that Clayton co-authored in the journal Current Psychology in 2022 suggests group efforts may help people manage climate anxiety more effectively than pursuing action alone. Ettinger has also seen this play out in his work; for a forthcoming study, he spoke with Australian activists who reported that community activities such as petitions, art projects, and contacting politicians helped them cope with anxiety surrounding local bushfires.

Activism seems to benefit mental health because it offers people a sense of agency when facing existential problems, Clayton says. And while some people experiencing eco-anxiety may be told they’re overreacting, teaming up can provide much-needed reassurance. “Joining together with others provides that validation that, yes, your view of the world is not wrong, and that can be very important for people to hear,” she says.

When to seek out a professional

If intrusive thoughts or persistent negative emotions impact your career, relationships, or sleep, it may be time to consult a mental health professional, says Clayton. “There’s no absolute cutoff for when to seek professional help,” she says. “I would say if it is significantly impairing functioning at some level.” In recent years, researchers have begun to model techniques for treating climate anxiety and to identify the most effective strategies, such as advising clients to join group sessions and spend time in nature

For more info, you can find a climate-aware therapist through this online directory.