Surviving climate anxiety

windmill on grass field during golden hour

This was originally posted on Substack in September 2022, but then they started to support the Nazis, so I moved it here.

First, a disclaimer: I have no authority to write about climate change or anxiety. I’m just some guy on the Internet and everything I’ve written below is based on reading/researching and personal experience. My hope is still that someone might find it useful and/or helpful. It is not intended at starting any sort of debate, but I do encourage you to leave a comment if you have something useful or constructive to say.

Here’s the thing: I’m often overwhelmed by the climate crisis.

For better or worse (I want to think it’s for better despite everything going on), I started to be aware of the threats facing humanity a few years ago.

I won’t bore you with a history lesson on how I’ve sort of changed over the years, so to summarise: Several years ago I decided to start running seriously, which led to making more healthy choices in my life, which in turn led to learning more about nutrition, which led to learning more about food systems, which led to learning more about climate. And it all snowballed from there.

When I say that I started to be aware of the threats of climate change what I mean is that I began to read and research a lot about how we got into this mess and about the brutal reality that we are facing and will be facing in the coming years.

The reason why I feel I need to explain that is because I’ve found that the majority of people appear to have heard about climate change, know that it’s bad, but actually have no idea how serious it is or how it is likely to affect their lives in a nearer-than-expected future.

While my intention is not to scare anyone with this – quite the opposite, hopefully – I’m aware that, depending on where you are in your climate awakening process, some of the things I’m writing here could make you go “WTF is he talking about? It’s not that bad.”

So I won’t go into detail about all the possible scenarios we will be facing. Chances are that if you don’t quit reading halfway through because you feel this is not for you, you are aware of a lot of the issues and I don’t need to explain them to you.

If that’s not you but you still read on and find this sounds all too dramatic for you that’s fine. Events affect each of us differently, and to some people this is not a big deal.

But inevitably, when you go deeper into understanding the situation, you are likely to feel anxious, depressed, powerless, hopeless, and myriad other things that are very often quite hard to deal with. I know because I’ve been there.

Through reading (and overthinking), I’ve created my own ‘theory’ about the stages I went through in my climate crisis awakening and, having discussed this with some people, I’ve found that they are quite universal.

The three stages of climate awakening

Stage 1: Ignorance is bliss

In 2022 it seems unlikely you can avoid hearing about the climate crisis, regardless of whether you ignore the news or stay away from social media. But I think there are several levels of ignorance when it comes to climate change:

  • Blissful ignorance: You’ve heard about climate change, but don’t actually pay attention to it, or you just push it to the back of your mind so it doesn’t affect your day-to-day existence. This was basically me years ago, and it’s the same thing I went through when eating animal products: I just didn’t think about where they came from and was happy to look the other way instead of considering how my choices affected others. If you read this entire thing and believe I’m just exaggerating or being overdramatic, you are probably at this level. (Sorry).
  • Disavow: This is sort of like the previous one, but in this case, you are more aware of the consequences of your actions, but don’t believe is your responsibility to do anything about it. There’s a lot of entitlement in this as well, like feeling it’s not up to you to try to change anything because no one else is doing it. It’s understandable that, in the face of so much gloom, we turn to apathy to continue to function, but it’s not the healthiest of alternatives. (Sorry, again).
  • Denial: Denial is a defence mechanism that comes from the fear of having to face your issues. While it’s a pretty typical human behaviour, at this point I find it nearly impossible to waste my time with people who deny the climate crisis is real. I’d have the same reaction if someone told me they believe Earth is flat. If you try hard enough, I’m sure you can find ‘data’ to support any belief, no matter how outrageous it is. If that’s the way you choose to live, that’s fine with me. Just don’t stand in the way of people who are trying to do positive things for the planet you live on. (Not sorry).
Stage 2: Apocalypse now

If you’ve read this far, it means you are probably in this stage. I’ve spent a lot of time in this one, and often come back to it and, from what I can tell, is where a lot of people are and will be for some time.

In this stage, you feel there is no hope, that the world is fucked, that no one is doing anything to fix it, and that there’s no point in you trying to do anything because it would be so ridiculously insignificant that it would make zero difference. You see all the terrible news about climate-related disasters while governments and companies continue to prioritise profit and help or rely on the fossil fuel industry, and you just want to smack your head against a wall until you knock yourself out so you don’t have to endure this anymore.

This is not a fun place to be in, and it’s not a healthy one either.

If there’s somewhat of a positive side to all this is that it’s 100% justified to be here, and to feel that way.

So many people are overwhelmed and often feel misunderstood for their concerns: If you are in Stage 2 and are not surrounded by people who are climate aware, you might feel alone, desperate, and even a fear-monger as you try to explain to others the seriousness of the climate situation and the catastrophic consequences we are facing after decades of inaction.

As I write this, I’m the father of two children ages 11 and 14. During the worst moments I’ve gone through in my whole climate awakening process, the worry about the future they will face has sometimes paralysed me.

As a father, you don’t want to start worrying your kids about the climate disasters they will endure in their life while they are too young, but I also want them to understand that I did the best I could to make sure that I gave them the best chance possible at having a ‘normal’ life as they grow up.

What I figured is that the best I prepare myself to deal with all this, the easier it will be for me to help my children and other people be prepared as well.

That’s the main reason I’ve been working on finding ways to reach…

Stage 3: Realistic hope

Yes, there is hope, and I can’t overstate how important it is to believe in that. But we need the right kind of hope, not just that abstract term used in motivational posters. It has to be a rational and realistic hope.

So first, some bad news: There is no magic pill. There are no overnight solutions that will suddenly fix it all. There is no “I’m sure those in charge will do something about it when the shit really hits the fan.” We can’t expect some smart people will come up with a solution that reverts all of this quickly. And there is no scenario in which, regardless of how bad things get, the entire world will come together to fight for the same cause. So don’t hope for that.

Some of the damage is already done and is irreversible. This is something that we need to internalise in order to start to heal.

The fact is that the climate crisis is a train going downhill at full speed, and the momentum it carries means that, no matter how hard we try to make it stop, the brakes are not strong enough to do it as fast as we need.

That momentum is why we are suffering the consequences of the inaction of previous generations, just like future generations will suffer the consequences of our inaction.

So I’m sure that’s the good news you were hoping to hear, right?

I know, it’s not, but hear me out. We can’t brush bad news aside or sweep them under the rug because that would leave us unprepared.

Yes, we are going to hear some terrible news over the next years and decades and, regardless of how hard we work on trying to prepare for all the possible worst-case scenarios, some bad news will still catch us unprepared and will likely overwhelm us. In order not to lose our minds with all that, we need to do some work.

Getting to Stage 3 is not like turning on a switch: Dealing with any kind of emotional trauma takes time and effort, but it’s worth it.

Many people believe that you need to wait to feel motivated before you take some action, be it starting to work out or eating better, etc. The reality is that it’s the other way around: You first do the work and then you start to feel the motivation. I believe that the same applies to hope.

So how does one go about that?

  • 1. Focus on what you can do and can control.

“Nothing gets done if you don’t believe it can be done.”

I won’t list all the things you can do to have a positive effect on the climate here (I might write about this in the future), but there are myriad actions you can take right away. I realise this sounds obvious and simplistic (“Do the right thing, duh!”) but I’ve found it helps a lot to internalise that you are doing all you personally can to help the situation.

I know it might sound insignificant, but it’s hugely important that you give value to the positive actions that you take. I can’t overstate this enough.

Again, I’m fully aware of how insignificant it sounds to say that, while 900 million people are affected by a historic drought, you eating less meat (just an example, don’t get mad) has a positive impact. But it does, and you have to learn to value that and to remember that you are doing all you can every time you hear about some tragedy.

I like to bring out this sentence every time someone feels they can’t have any impact: “The fact that I don’t eat animal products won’t fix the world, but there is no fixing the world if we don’t reduce the amount of animal products we eat.” Replace the animal products part with whatever your action is and you get the point.

The alternative is giving up, and I can understand why people might feel that’s the only alternative, but I believe that just leads to having an even tougher time. Feeling hopeless leads to feeling even more hopeless, so my advice is to do the work to find hope in it. 

Remember that you can’t do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good you can do. (Not my quote)

  • 2. Realise that there’s a lot of good going on

As I mentioned with the train analogy above, the momentum that decades of inaction carries means that we are feeling the effects of decisions made in the past. And yes, while the momentum of our actions will carry well into the future, there have never, ever been more people working on making a positive change for the climate as there are right now.

Records for renewable energy are being broken, historic bills to fight climate change are being passed, new technologies are improving the way we produce power, and more and more people are becoming aware that we need to change our priorities to become more sustainable, which translates into more and more people taking positive steps to fight all this.

“But what’s the point of me doing anything when they are destroying the Amazon rainforest at a record pace, or supporting the fossil fuel industry while taking bribes from it, or any other number of shitty things that have a bigger negative impact than anything I can do alone?”

Because if no one does anything, nothing gets done, that’s why. 

As I said, our hope needs to be realistic, and it will be impossible to avoid negative news and events, but once you’ve accepted the direction that we are headed in, there is no need to overwhelm yourself with extra bad news regularly.

I’ve personally found that, while activism can be amazing, I don’t need to hear about all the doom and gloom every single minute of the day. I already know the situation we are in, and I’m trying to take steps to make a positive impact.

In every context – and not just with climate change – it’s key to be mindful of the information and content you consume: If you only read negative stuff, you’ll have more negative thoughts.

Yes, some people still need to hear the negative stuff to finally open their eyes to the realities of all this, but if you are struggling emotionally and mentally, you are not in that group of people.

I recognise there needs to be a balance between good and bad news since a big part of the world still needs to understand the situation we are in, but if you’ve been in Stage 2 and want to move forward, you have to work carefully on that balance to make sure it doesn’t tilt one way. After all, if you have a disease and have already started treating it, you don’t need to constantly hear about all the problems you could face. You want to focus on the positive outcomes. 

Again, I’m not saying we hide from bad news, but that we try to find the right balance between dreading and hoping.

  • 3. Connect, help and get help

I’ll admit this is the one that I’ve failed the most at. Not being the most social person, I’ve not made huge progress establishing connections with people who, a) feel the same way as me, and b) are making a positive impact with their actions. And I know I’m missing a trick here, because connecting with more people is hugely important to get support and feel you are not alone in all of this, so I’ll keep working on it.

Speaking to someone with similar values and concerns makes the entire situation feel a lot less debilitating (as long as you don’t connect exclusively to discuss why we are doomed and everything is pointless).

Therapy, especially if you can find a climate-aware psychologist, is always a great choice if you are unable to find the right group of people around you.

The important part is not to carry the entire weight of the world on your own shoulders and to get some perspective on how many people are actually on your side, especially when it feels that no one is doing anything to make the changes we need. 


I know I’m in an incredibly privileged position as I write all this.

The climate crisis is something that, while it is happening right now, doesn’t affect me in a life-changing way yet. The summer of 2022 has been brutal and probably the hottest ever recorded, but other than being more uncomfortable and sweaty, not an awful lot has changed for me so far.

I have the luxury of knowing that this is a problem I’ll have in the future. Others are not as lucky and are already facing the effects of it all in devastating ways.

But being in a privileged situation gives me the chance of trying to have a positive impact, and so this is me trying to take that chance.

The idea of writing this whole thing you just read started as part of that, thinking that if it helps at least one person, it counts as a win.

As tiny and insignificant as that may sound, it’s a positive step, and I believe we need every single one we can take, both for the planet and for our own mental health.

Thanks for reading,


* * *

PS: This article is simplistic and doesn’t talk, among other things, about some of the positive actions you can take, which is often where people get paralysed, not knowing how to act to help.

I might write about that in the future, but if you’ve made it this far, and you want to keep on reading about this subject, here are a couple of books from people who are much smarter and better prepared to talk about this than me.

Do you often think “I sure wish I got even more emails from strangers?” Subscribe then.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *