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Week 2: Engaging with the climate and ecological crisis: indifference, distress and beyond

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The text in the image reads: Eco-anxiety is the most frequently used term in literature and research to describe heightened emotional, mental or somatic distress in response to dangerous changes in the climate system. The term climate anxiety is often used synonymously. A 2017 report by the American Psychological Association links the impact of climate change to mental health and references ‘eco-anxiety’ as a ‘chronic fear of environmental doom’. It is important to stress that CPA does not view eco-anxiety as a clinical condition, but an inevitable and even healthy response to the ecological threats we are facing, such as food/water shortages, extreme weather events, species extinction, increased health issues, social unrest and potentially the demise of human life on Earth. This has particular significance for children and young people who have little power to limit this harm, making the vulnerable to increased climate anxiety. Paying heed to what is happening in our communities and across the globe is a healthier response than turning away in denial or disavowal. The notion of solastalgia is closely related to eco-anxiety. Coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht, it refers to the existential pain experienced where one resides is subject to environmental degradation. Whatever words we use to illustrate the psychological effects of climate change, fear and anxiety are certainly not the only emotions people experience in relation to the climate emergency. Anger, helplessness, sadness, grief, depression, numbness, restlessness, sleeplessness and other symptoms can befall those who are able to face the facts. Fear and anxiety are feelings that alert us to danger and can mobilise us into action. Without enough support, anxiety can escalate into panic on one end of the spectrum or evoke a freeze response and paralyse on the other end of the spectrum. Rather than attempting to rid people of anxiety, therapists can support individuals and communities to build strong containers that allow the expression and exploration of their emotions without collapsing under it or turning away. With strong enough support structures in place, most people can sustain strong feelings without either dissociating and numbing or going into blind panic. They can engage with difficult truths while staying connected and grounded. Community groups, climate cafes, supervision groups, are just a few examples.