Climate change is definitely happening, but it’s doing more than warming up the planet — it’s also affecting our well-being. A new report from the American Psychological Association explains how climate change is gradually taking a toll on our mental health.
According to the report, put together in association with Climate for Health and ecoAmerica, the ever-changing weather is a formidable source of stress many of us don’t think about. As climate change affects our agriculture, economies and communities, the stress-inducing side effects trickle down to us.
For those exposed to the chaos of natural disasters, things are even worse. They can experience fear, grief, anxiety and depression, and tend to fall back on unhealthy behaviour like substance abuse after such tragic events. Some even develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which can take years of therapy to manage. And the report says people forced to migrate due to natural disasters or other climate change-related causes often experience strains on their personal relationships, a loss of social support, and tend to have more absences from work.
But even if you’re not experiencing natural disasters first-hand, you’re constantly hearing about them, and that bombardment of depressing news can be enough to tip the stress scales in your brain. And the effects of climate change reach us in more subtle ways as well. Seasonal weather, for example, plays a much bigger role in your mood than you might realise. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can strike during abnormally long winters, and it’s been suggested that prolonged exposure to warmer weather, like during an unusually hot summer, can make you more aggressive and reduce your cognitive function.
All in all, a rapidly changing climate feels like a complete loss of control in our environment, and we struggle emotionally we feel like we aren’t adapting well enough. The uncertainty of climate change, it seems, is accumulating on top of our normal day-to-day stresses, pushing us to a potentially unhealthy threshold.
Battling this kind of stress is all about establishing and maintaining strong social connections, says the report. Talking things out makes people feel more secure, and large social support systems makes sharing vital information easier. The other key is awareness. Just knowing that climate change can affect your stress levels will give you a head start so you can find your own ways to cope. This is especially true for those who live in areas where their livelihood is dependent on the environment. Places where agriculture, tourism, fishing, outdoor recreation and so on are the lifeblood of the community need to take extra care when considering these issues. You can check out the full report yourself here.
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