Welcome to the club. According to the American Psychological Association you’re not alone, as the effects of climate change are triggering both immediate and long-term psychological consequences for people all around the world.
Of course people want a healthy vibrant earth, a sustainable world for future generations, and for wildlife and nature to thrive. So if people are feeling this way, why is it difficult to take action? Because change is hard in any aspect of life. Maybe you have thought about adopting pro-environmental behaviors but some of these issues have come up:
• You don’t know where to start.
• You’ve started making changes but don’t feel like it’s enough.
• You have trouble sticking with it.
• You feel exhausted from trying so hard.
• Your relationships are suffering because loved ones don’t share your views.
• You feel paralyzed with fear when thinking about the future.
Believe it or not, these concerns are incredibly common because the time and geographic scales of climate change are just too big to relate to. When people are faced with challenges that they can’t comprehend, they react emotionally and psychologically.
Psychology professor Robert Gifford explains that many people put off adopting pro-environmental behaviors due to psychological barriers that fit into 7 categories called:
The Dragons of Inaction.
1. Uncertainty: People become uncertain because they are numb to hearing the same things or just can’t process such large concerns.
“It’s just another depressing story that doesn’t really have anything to do with me.”
2. Worldviews: Sometimes people limit their behaviors because of their beliefs.
“Technology or Mother Earth or Capitalism will save us.”
3. Comparisons: Social norms and networks have a big influence on what people do.
“Other people aren’t really changing their lifestyle, why should I?”
4. Costs: People are often driven by fear of losing what they have already invested.
“The costs of changing my whole life to go green are just too high.”
5. Discredence: Doubt in government and experts dissuades action.
“People have been wrong about this kind of thing before, why should we listen to them now?”
6. Risks: Fears of financial, functional, physical and social risks are often discouraging.
“Will I be judged for looking like a hippie? Isn’t it dangerous to ride a bike all the time?”
7. Limitations: Occasionally people will only make low-impact or short-term commitments
“I bought an energy efficient dishwasher so I can shower for as long as I want.”
The interesting thing is that these challenges are not specific to environmental action- they come up when trying to sustain any kind of behavioral change! Luckily the tools really do exist to ‘slay-the-dragons’. Working with a professional can help build resiliency to deal with anxiety and depression, and to make lasting change.
How Family TLC Can Help
To alleviate the debilitating effects of anxiety it is important for people to understand how anxiety works, what their triggers are, and what strategies they can use. Depending on the individual, we at Family TLC recommend and conduct progressive relaxation and mindfulness techniques, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as well as Dialectic Behavioral Therapy. Implementing a combination of these techniques with a trained therapist, alleviates the paralyzing effect of facing overwhelming situations such as climate change.
Once individuals have developed confidence and resilience, Family TLC helps people to implement strategies for lasting change. Helping people with self-monitoring, goal-setting, and evaluation is an important first step, then the external accountability of regular sessions builds long term success. In addition, allowing clients to understand their personal values and motivations is a powerful facilitator of change. Lastly, Family TLC therapists remind clients to set realistic expectations and clear boundaries, in order to develop self-compassion and compassion toward others.
Kyera CookMA in Environmental Education and Communication and Sue Cook RSW, CCC, MEd Counselling, BAFN, CYC