With heatwaves and dry winds raising the threat of even more fires, and hurricanes expected to become more severe due to global warming, experts continue to announce grim predictions that only add to fear surrounding the climate crisis.
Yahoo Life mental health contributor Dr. Jen Hartstein, says that the overwhelming feelings of loss surrounding the environment certainly has an effect on our mental health. Psychologists even coined a phrase for this climate-induced despair: “solastalgia.”
“Solastalgia is the idea that the climate is really causing us to feel sad, anxious and overwhelmed because we just don't know what's going to happen,” Hartstein, a family psychologist, says. “There is this sense of kind of feeling lost even when you're at your home.”
Hartstein explains that we view our home as a place of safety and security, and the loss of homes due to environmental disasters threatens to rip away our sense of solace and peace. Even for those who may not be in immediate danger of losing their home, the impact of this on mental health is still felt on a global scale in the way we see our home on Earth as being in danger.
Reconnect with nature
Finding a way to connect with nature in a positive way at this time is key for mental health. Hartstein advises finding a safe spot where you can get back the peacefulness that nature brings.
“When we feel disconnected from the Earth, which solastalgia highlights, we want to looks for ways to be connected, or places and locations [where] we do feel secure and safe,” she says. “Maybe it's finding that special place in the park that you know is there, and you know is safe, that you can get to every day or as often as you can. That will help us get the balance we need to get through each day more effectively.”
Hartstein says even those who are unable to get out into nature may find that bringing more nature into their homes via plants, and immersing themselves in nature via film or the internet, can help regain feelings of connection and ease some anxiety regarding the environment.
Solastalgia and the immense impact of climate change can leave us feeling powerless, but even if we live far away from the areas being affected, Hartstein says we are generally compassionate people who feel pain when we see others suffering. Channeling that into action can help.
“There’s lots of different ways to find connection and to feel like you have some power in making change,” she says.
“Can we help rescue animals? Can we help send money for the Red Cross to provide materials and goods to the people who are losing those things? Maybe it's getting involved in eco-friendly organizations to help work on things related to climate change. Figure out how you can work with the community that you live in to make things better and safer for everybody.”
Break the “bad news” cycle
For many it may feel like a time of constant anxiety, with a new cause for alarm popping up in our news feeds every day. And while it’s important to stay informed, Hartstein says it’s just as important to acknowledge the impact of this on your mental health.
“One of my top recommendations is to put things in categories for yourself so that you don't feel like you're underneath a pile of all the bad news,” Hartstein tells Yahoo Life. “For example, maybe today, you're going to really focus on what you need to be learning about the news with coronavirus, [and] then tomorrow maybe you're going to stop and learn about what's going on with the climate or fires in California and so on and so on.
“When we look at all of it at once, it feels really overwhelming and can shut us down,” she says.
Find the good stories
“It's very easy to get stuck in the bad news magnet cycle, where all we see is the negative. So find the good stories,” Hartstein adds. “There is a lot of good stuff happening, a lot of heroes, a lot of change-makers. Find those stories to feed your soul and give back to yourself so that you can feel more enlightened and feel more empowered at a time where things feel very overwhelming.”
Talk with others
If you find the impact of climate change really taking a toll on your mental health, Hartstein recommends talking to friends, family and the community around you about how you’re feeling. “You're not alone in this worry, so engage with others around the conversation, see how everyone's feeling, find some sense of community,” she says.
Feelings of anxiety and sadness are often suffered in silence, even though these emotions may be shared by people closest to you. Hartstein says coming together to share thoughts and concerns is often what leads to action and change.
Though solastalgia is a new term to many of us, it may be one that we become more and more familiar with as climate change continues to present itself and threaten our feelings of safety and security. As we face these challenges, Hartstein advises to never shy away from seeking support when feelings of dread come up in response to climate change.
“You don’t have to go through it alone,” she says.
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