How psychology can help combat climate change and anxiety

SAdvocates and activists have deployed many tactics to help fight climate change: expanding technologies like wind and solar power, building better batteries to store that renewable energy and protecting forests, while working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On August 4, in Convention of the American Psychological Association In Minneapolis, nearly a dozen experts turned their attention to another, more surprising tool: psychology.

“I used to start my presentations talking about temperature data and thermal gases, but now I start most of my presentations the same way: by asking people, “ How do you feel about climate change? ”” said Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist of Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental organization, during a panel discussion. “I get the same words everywhere: worried, worried, frustrated, worried, devastated, overwhelmed, angry, desperate, terrified, scared, heartbroken and scared.”

“If we don’t know what to do with them, it can cause us to withdraw, freeze, give up rather than act,” says Hayhoe.

Psychology can play a role in helping to combat climate change by gathering the most effective ways to change human behavior and encouraging individuals to take action. Extreme weather events also affect people’s mental and physical well-being, so psychologists need to be mentally prepared.

Here’s a look at how psychology can be used during the climate crisis.

Facing mental health damage from climate change

Climate change is increasing threat to mental health. Extreme weather events such as wildfires and hurricanes can lead to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in people of all ages, sometimes causing displacement and wage insecurity. real. And research indicated that higher temperatures were associated with an increased risk of suicide and mental health-related hospitalizations.

Many people are going through it too worry about the climate, or existential fear about the future of the planet. Based on research published in Lancet by 2021, 84% of 16-25 year olds from 10 countries – including the US – are at least moderately worried about climate change, while 59% are very or extremely worried.

Susan Clayton, a psychology professor at the University of Wooster in Ohio, said “very strong emotional responses” to this crisis are not uncommon. People who are experiencing extreme emotions can benefit from counseling or other mental health treatment – as well as some reassurance that they don’t need to have all the answers. Psychologists and others in leadership positions must remind people that “this is a systemic problem,” says Clayton. “People struggling with climate anxiety may feel a responsibility to save the world. No individual has to carry that weight on their shoulders.”

In addition to anxiety, many people, especially young people, are feeling anger because of inheriting a problem they did not create. This is a reasonable and exploitable response: “Anger can be really powerful in motivating people to get involved,” notes Clayton, “and for some, it can be helpful. more beneficial than anxiety-induced passivity. “There’s a real place for anger.” It’s important to figure out how to make it socially acceptable, she added.

Children are also experiencing climate anxiety, and many parents are struggling with how to navigate these complex conversations. “As a parent, I would say two things: one, don’t lie to a child, because they will find out, and that only erodes their trust,” says Clayton. “And keep in mind their emotional needs. Please don’t tell them the world is about to end. “

As a society, we need to provide emotional coping skills to children who are directly or indirectly receiving messages about climate change, she said. Children need outlets and it is important that parents and community leaders, including psychologists, identify ways to promote movement from ancient times. For example, UNICEF recommends Talk about steps the whole family can take together, like recycling, reducing food waste, saving water, and planting trees.

Read more: What effect does extreme heat have on the human body?

How to fight climate change denial?

Have solid scientific evidence that the man-made climate crisis is real. However, some people refuse to admit it exists.

Gale M. Sinatra, professor of psychology and education at the University of Southern California and co-author of Science Denies: Why It Happens And What To Do About It. Some are adamant that hurricanes, droughts and intense heat waves are not signs of a climate crisis. Others expressed doubt or expressed “resistance to do something about it” or even talked about it, she said. “A lot of people understand something is happening but are hesitant to act, and that delay is a denial of the crisis that is happening to us.”

There are many cognitive and emotional reasons a person can subconsciously use to justify their climate denial, says Sinatra. It may involve “motivated reasoning,” or preferring to believe in a preferred outcome rather than confronting a harsh reality. Or, someone’s social identity may be messed up when driving a large truck, for example, they don’t want to trade for an electric car — so it’s easiest to pretend no problem exists. in. “Sometimes people don’t want to lump those things together because they don’t want to change their lifestyle,” she says.

So what can be done with climate denial? One strategy is to tailor the message to whatever interests the person you’re talking to. It can also help to note anti-psychotics and aim to make conversations more inclusive.

For example, in Science deniesSinatra suggestions listen to people who are against science and try to understand their concerns and fears. Aim to find common ground, she advises, like a shared desire to improve the air people with asthma breathe. It can also be helpful to ask someone why they don’t value scientific knowledge and to demonstrate that you are open and willing to consider their point of view. That increases your chances of having a meaningful dialogue.

To make sure you don’t fall for misinformation about climate change, Sinatra recommends becoming skilled at finding and evaluating scientific claims, noting that people are shown content based on on algorithms, this can help “fight any bias you may be developing by simply following Google or your social media feeds. “

Read more: Terrified about climate change? You may have environmental anxiety

How to empower people to fight climate change

Christie Manning, director of sustainability and a lecturer in the department of environmental studies at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, said: “But we know that’s not the case, as recent heatwaves have been clarify.

Manning described three psychology-based tactics that can help empower people to take action to mitigate climate change:

Connect with young people. Manning has been thinking about climate change for decades. But back in 2018, after A prominent United Nations report has been released, she recalls walking home with her 13-year-old daughter. “She turned to me and said, ‘Mom, I learned about this climate report from a friend at school today, and I need you to tell me what this means for my life. of children. What does it mean for my future? ‘ It was one of those moments where my heart sank, because I know what this means to all young people’s lives if we don’t come together and do something. on the climate crisis”.

That conversation elevated Manning’s perspective — and she believes that people connected to a young person are more likely to care and be more willing to act on the climate crisis. “Let us encourage everyone we know to talk to a young person, to listen to young people and their concerns,” she said. “Because if we listen to them, I think that will stimulate more action and raise the stakes for all of us.”

Ask yourself: what feeds your positive emotions? If we don’t find some way to feel hopeful or feel that we’re looking for solutions, we can become paralyzed and anxious, says Manning. Many people find such meaning when they become part of a community, so it is important to seek out others. “If I worry about the climate crisis and I spend time with people who don’t share that worry, I start to feel pretty lonely,” she says. “But if I join a community that shares my fear and we act together, I feel the support of society and I feel validated.”

Joining a community, such as a local advocacy group, can also help you feel like you’re actually solving the problem, which is the motivation many people need to keep ignoring.

Take action outside of your comfort zone. As humans, we all have the untapped power to change the world around us, says Manning. Often, people default to committing to eating less meat or driving less — the admiral’s goal, “but we know that those individual actions are not what needs to be done to resolve the crisis.” this”.

She suggests motivating yourself — or encouraging others — to take bold steps, like contacting elected officials or starting a club that will build an energy garden. community solar energy. “These are the kinds of actions that have a big impact and can bring about systemic change,” says Manning. “And individuals have the right to take these steps. We need to encourage them and help them get over their discomfort.”

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