There is no doubt about it. Climate change is real. Even worse is that it is not only impacting the ice caps and the atmosphere, but it is also affecting our lives and our health. Rising temperatures and frequent natural disasters are leading many to feel more stressed, and it is impacting how many of us go about our daily routines.
If you are someone who has feelings of anxiety when thinking about our Earth and the effects of climate change, then know that you are not alone. These are natural feelings, but you don’t have to let them control you. Let’s talk a bit about why some people are affected by changes in our atmosphere and what they can do to cope.
How Climate Change Affects Mental Health
It is not a bad thing to feel personally impacted by the existence of climate change and its effects on the planet. After all, this is our home and the only one that we have, so feeling like it might be destroyed one day can be a lot to wrap our minds around. These feelings can get much worse if climate change creates a natural disaster that destroys a part of your community or hurts a person in your family. Hurricanes, brush fires, and heatwaves can be very dangerous and the frequency of these events has increased drastically over the last several years.
Feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression are only natural after going through a catastrophic event and the numbers show this to be the case as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina alone left 49% of survivors with an anxiety disorder. When people go through a traumatic experience and then turn on the news to see that our world isn’t doing enough to keep these events from happening again, feelings of fear can easily take over.
Even if you haven’t been directly involved in a tragic incident due to inclement weather, it is still possible to feel depressed. Surveys show that 66% of people are even somewhat worried about climate change and part of that is because many of the facts associated with climate change are unknown. Still, when the temperatures get warmer and the news is full of scary stories of weather gone amuck, it is easy to feel a sense of hopelessness.
Luckily, there are ways that we can try to cope with these issues and find our way to a more positive mental place.
Dealing With Your Stress
The first thing you should do when you are feeling overwhelmed by the existence and effects of climate change is speak candidly to someone who will listen and understand. This is such a widespread issue that it is not uncommon for everyone in your family to feel down, including the kids. If that is the case, then have regular family meetings where everyone gets a chance to explain their concerns. Stress affects our emotional wellness, one of the eight dimensions of health and wellness, and this includes kids’ mental health. In addition to talking, read books and literature about acknowledging feelings and, if necessary, you could all see a family therapist together so no one goes through it alone.
While watching the news and seeing stories about climate change can lead us to think that all is lost, it is important not to turn to dangerous substances to try to work on your mental health. Smoking cigarettes and vaping have been tied to increased stress, while drinking may make you feel better in the short term, but when used excessively, you will feel worse in the long run, both mentally and physically.
The key to fighting stress is to engage in activities that make you feel better about yourself, not worse. Of course, yoga and meditation are big go-tos because it helps to center your mind and filter out the negative thoughts. It is also important to eat right and exercise. Fatty food has been linked to mental health and depression because a bad diet can lead to brain inflammation and mood changes. By eating healthy foods, including those high in Omega-3 fatty acids, your body will increase cell membrane production, which will make you feel less sluggish while also fighting off potential blood clots and other conditions.
When you exercise, you also feel better overall and the energy spent can help you to get better sleep at night, which is essential.
Effects on Sleep
Getting enough sleep each night is very important, but unfortunately, climate change can cause issues when you lay your head on the pillow at night. Beyond the stress associated with knowing that natural disasters and climate change exist and keeping you awake at night, there are other factors at play as well. For instance, poor air quality can negatively impact sleep as when air is too dry, it can cause itchy skin or dry nasal passages that can bother you and keep you awake.
Then there is the fact that warmer temperatures create hotter, more humid air, which makes you feel uncomfortable as you try to sleep. Scientists say that colder air helps to slow down our metabolism, which in turn forces our bodies to use less energy so we can rest calmly. If elevated temperatures are keeping you awake then you need to modify your environment, and you can do that by finding the right mattress. In addition to a mattress that is comfortable, you also want one that can keep you cool, and there are many out on the market, including those from Saatva and Esoca, that are made with cooling foam that draws heat from your body.
Sleep and mental health are tied together, and if one suffers, the other can as well. That is why you need to get enough sleep so you are energized for a new day and continue that healthy cycle. To get the best rest, make sure to go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends, and wake up at the same time every day as well. Also, avoid looking at your cell phone or watching television as you lay in bed because the screens emit blue light, which affects your sleep-wake cycle and makes you restless.
We indeed feel a certain amount of hopelessness when thinking about climate change, but we don’t have to let it completely rule our lives. By working on our mental health and getting the sleep we need, we can get through each night and wake up with a feeling of optimism that we all deserve.