Science | April 26, 2022 11:50 am

Want Better Mental Health? Try Environmental Activism.

Individual action might not feel like much, but could have huge impacts on that sense of "dread"

hands holding a seedling over dirt.
Community and connection can ease climate grief.
sarayut Thaneerat via Getty

Climate change is the largest, most impactful, underreported story of our lifetimes. A report from the IPCC said that the planet would be “uninhabitable” if we continue to ignore climate change. On Earth Day, a climate scientist killed himself by self-immolation outside of the Supreme Court. 

With those headlines in the news, it makes sense that people would feel existential dread surrounding climate change, including feeling like it’s all out of our control. One survey found eight in ten Gen Z’s are concerned about the health of the planet as we’re living through a painfully slow-motion catastrophe. Experts have coined the term “climate grief” to explain the feelings of anxiety and dread we have around climate change. 

In an interview for Mic, social anthropologist Bridget Bradley said that while therapy and other individual actions are important for the self, the ultimate “cure for climate anxiety is effective climate action.” 

This is a seemingly easy solution for an almost unfathomably large problem. It can sometimes feel like a moot point to even care about whether or not you’re using bamboo toothbrushes or how much single use plastic is in your grocery order. But thinking about “your role in the story of climate change,” as Rachel Malena-Chan, a community health researcher and co-founder of Eco Anxious explained, is directly beneficial to easing climate grief. Individual actions might feel marginally impactful, if they feel impactful at all, but by recognizing that you are a citizen of the world and therefore someone who can make an impact on it, your role in being a part of solutions to climate change can quell some of the anxiety surrounding it. 

Malena-Chen explained that by finding community and connection, the solutions to systemic problems might come easier. Being isolated, on the other hand, makes it “harder to find connection to other people, and those wider, larger-scale solutions.” That community could look like volunteering at a Zero Waste event to sort garbage, or at a beach clean up. Your role in climate activism can be as big or as small as you want, but whatever it is, you and the planet will both reap the benefits.