Anxious and Afraid in a Time of Climate Change

By Colin Waters

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, and it continues until Friday 12 November. As it is being held in Glasgow, COP26 has brought into focus for many Scots fears over the consequences of man-made climate change.

Perhaps no age group is so concerned by potential ecological disaster than that of Young People. So much so some are suffering from what experts are calling ‘eco-anxiety’, a fear of catastrophe based on modelling future outcomes for the environment. With more wild weather events predicted, a recent survey found 31 percent of 18-34 year olds are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ worried about climate change compared with 19 percent of over-65s.

Those who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will perhaps find in these Young People’s worries an echo of what they experienced as children, when an existential threat was posed by competing superpowers and the spectre of nuclear war. If tempted to dismiss these Young People’s fears on the basis that the Cold War didn’t after all turn hot, one should recall that whatever happens over the next few decades, a substantial number of Young People’s fear is real and happening now, so much so psychotherapists met in London this September to discuss approaches to managing eco-anxiety.

‘Eco-anxiety is a term that’s used a lot, but it’s misguided if it’s not used in the right way,’ said Sarah Niblock of the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) in her opening speech. ‘This is not an illness or disorder, it’s a perfectly normal and healthy reaction.’

While there are ways in which we as individuals can take actions to protect the environment – give your home an energy health check; cut back on flying; protect local green spaces – many will continue to feel anxious. And that anxiety can spill into our home lives. We know that stress can exacerbate tensions within families, and that stress can have many causes.

If you or a young person you know are feeling anxious about climate change or for any reason, Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution has resources and events that can help. Indeed, we have a workshop coming up tailored for Young People, ‘Anxious and Afraid’ on Tuesday, 7 December, 12pm, that has ideas for how to resolve family conflicts that have arisen from feelings of anxiety. Those who attend the session will be able to relate to the emotional state of being anxious and afraid, while the session will explore some of the science behind this state as a way to begin to improve individual wellbeing.

The sessions are free, online and last 40 minutes. If you’d like to reserve a ticket, click here.

Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution is also holding an ‘Anxious and Afraid’ session for parents and carers on Tuesday, 23 November, also starting at noon. Tickets are available here.