How do I deal with climate change anxiety?

I call our situation climate emergency, rather than climate change. The word and idea of change makes me anxious, emergency makes me want to swing into action and see others do so too, while looking out for one another as backup and protectors to one another. I understand that the emergency is already underway and getting more severe by the week; there’s no reason therefore to worry about whether it will happen or not. I also understand that I can’t stop it, and in fact that no one can stop it now. The scientific consensus has been clear on all this.

As a result of all this, I believe I feel much more grief than I feel anxiety, while I can admit also to feeling psychologically traumatized.

Grief may include fear, sorrow, guilt, shame, blame, fury, numbness, confusion, disorientation, and other sensitive and often intense feelings. Grief is a complex and instable discombobulation of feelings seeking acceptance and resolution, which is bound to be difficult to stabilize as long as the emergency is in its radically mutable unraveling, which I am obliged to assume will take far longer than I can stay alive to witness it. So I accept my grief reactions as realistic and acceptable, without anticipating their resolution or end. My emotions may or may not get more intense; I assume they will vary and take on different forms and characteristics in the years to come.

There isn’t a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) effect involved in my experience of trauma over the climate emergency, since we are not “post-traumatic” but within a developing trauma; also I feel it’s a common trauma for our entire ecosphere, including all humans, all feeling and overwhelmed, and all life forms and including Gaia as a whole. There’s a lot of suffering to consider in all this,. The climate emergency and the suffering and grieving that are entailed have the status of a hyperobject for me, in that it all happens in more dimensions and interrelated consequences than I can expect to be consciously aware of and it’s much much bigger than me and those people I happen to know.

I don’t read a lot of news of environmental changes, mitigation proposals, species extinction, or supply chain problems. I know I will not remember details on such news and hypotheses but will be likely to stoke up anxiety and stress by trying to stay focused on the constantly amassing news and fixers. I just try to have a significant general impression, which is gradually and increasingly that we are in for it, bigtime, on a global scale.

I acknowledge my good fortune and gratitude at living where I do, at being thrifty over the years, at my community’s manifest resilience and cultural sensitivity. I acknowledge my privilege as a white cisgender male born into the middle class in the most affluent nation on the planet, leading me to prepare mentally to allow my own precarity to emerge and my own standard of living to decline, hoping I will not freeze or starve in old age — unlikely, as some family members would likely seek to support me if danger accrues.

I encourage and permit myself to indulge in distractions, to walk in the woods, to swim in a cove, to listen to an historical novel, to see films that I feel will matter to me as films, as well as some that have sociopolitical or documentary analyses of issues that matter to me.

I show up for demonstrations and some online meetings. I don’t try to serve the movement(s) in ways I feel uncomfortable or inept at, knowing these are likely to lead me subjectively to increased stress, frustration, depression, and hopelessness. I am grateful to those who can work in those ways effectively without becoming debilitated.

Deep breath, long deep sigh. (This helps settle the central nervous system.)
Mindfulness practices: breath meditation, sensory attention to the present moment.
Walks outdoors, especially within view of sky, trees, waters. Noticing little things.
Physical exercise that’s a pleasure, finding definite ways to schedule this.

(I talk to myself, usually these days in an internal dialogue, silent to others. This allows me to calm myself at times, as a sensibly steady voice can counter an hysterical, frightened, or grievously overwhelmed voice, to calm it and reassure it in some ways.)

At my age I don’t worry about impacts on me personally, and not too much about my local community, since I think that direct effects on us in Downeast Maine will be minor until major supply chains and federal agencies fall apart, aside from the growing problematic effects on our local fisheries. (I don’t anticipate become a qualified analyst of the fishing industry’s entanglement with changing climate effects on the fisheries and laws, so I agree with myself to let others think this out.)

Personally, I worry about the terrible suffering of great numbers of current and future refugees and populations around the world without safe water or at the mercy of autocratic regimes, civil wars, and governmental collapses. I read and try to keep learning, but I don’t perpetually research all of these. I also feel a terrible deep concern for all the children and young adults of our time who contemplate their uncertain prospects and will face impacts of the climate emergency far worse than we have seen so far. I recognize that it may be helpful to voice support for some of these peoples or crises where I can and to donate the modest amounts of money I feel I can afford responsibly, to assist them in a focused way. So I sometimes do that.

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