Subscribe now


What is eco-anxiety and how can we overcome it?

Eco-anxiety is common around the world, especially among young people, and while the symptoms are the same as anxiety, the way to reduce them is not

By Graham Lawton

3 April 2024

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Students take part in a climate strike demo on February 14, 2020 in London, England. The school strike for climate is an international event movement of school students who take time off from class on Fridays to participate in demonstrations demanding political leaders take action on climate change. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Eco-anxiety is a rational response to ecological breakdown

Peter Summers/Getty Images

WILDFIRES, floods, droughts – over the past few years, more and more extreme weather events and natural disasters have been attributed to climate change. And things are only predicted to get worse.

Given this apocalyptic outlook, it is hardly surprising that some people feel overwhelmed by anxiety about our prospective future. But how widespread is this eco-anxiety, and what can we do to overcome it?

There is no formal definition of eco-anxiety, also sometimes called climate anxiety. The Climate Psychology Alliance – a collection of therapists and researchers interested in the psychological impact of the climate crisis – describes it as “heightened emotional, mental or somatic [bodily] distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system”.

It is the anxiety that keeps on giving. “With ordinary anxiety, the expectation is that with some form of intervention, some form of support, you will recover,” says Caroline Hickman, an eco-anxiety specialist at the University of Bath, UK. “But the thing about eco-anxiety is that it is unresolvable, because the eco-crisis is not being resolved.”

Increase in eco-anxiety

The label “anxiety” is overly narrow, says Hickman. “We use it as an umbrella term to describe a range of emotional responses to environmental breakdown, which includes fear, grief, rage, despair, sadness and hopelessness.” For that reason, some have tried to rebrand it as “eco-distress”, but even that seems inadequate, says Hickman. “I think we should call it ‘climate terror’ or ‘climate oh-my-fucking-god’.”

Recent research suggests that…

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Receive a weekly dose of discovery in your inbox! We'll also keep you up to date with New Scientist events and special offers.

Sign up

To continue reading, subscribe today with our introductory offers

View introductory offers

No commitment, cancel anytime*

Offer ends 2nd of July 2024.

*Cancel anytime within 14 days of payment to receive a refund on unserved issues.

Inclusive of applicable taxes (VAT)


Existing subscribers

Sign in to your account