Feeling sad, angry, or hopeless about the declining health of the environment may be referred to as climate grief.
When you feel as though the world is changing, and not for the better, it can lead you to experience an overwhelming sense of loss.
This sense of loss may impact how you behave, relate to others, think, and feel. The experience can feel similar to grieving.
Climate grief is a sense of loss and mourning related to environmental destruction, climate change, or a sense of lost connection to the natural world.
You can experience climate grief when a rainforest has been devastated, an ancient glacier has melted away, or an animal species has been declared extinct, for example.
Climate grief isn’t a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), but it’s a concept sometimes acknowledged in clinical settings and research.
According to Kriss Kevorkian, PhD, a thanatologist who pioneered research on eco-related grief, climate grief appears to be an unofficial merger of two once-distinct forms of grieving associated with the natural world:
- environmental grief: stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystems caused by natural or man-made events
- ecological grief: stemming from a sense of disconnection with the natural world
Kevorkian adds that these forms of grief aren’t the same as anticipatory grief. But, there are aspects of anticipatory grief involved in climate grief.
Anticipatory grief is mourning a loss that hasn’t happened yet.
While it’s possible to feel the pain of impending loss related to the environment, climate grief is directly related to past, present, and projected changes on the planet.
Loss has gradually happened in climate grief, which leads to anticipation of more loss that may be yet to come.
Feelings of fear and worry about possible future environmental changes are known as eco-anxiety.
The link to solastalgia
Solastalgia is a type of yearning for the surroundings that once were. It’s existential and environmentally induced distress related to habitat loss, but particularly to changes in your most immediate natural conditions.
Solastalgia isn’t the same as climate grief, though both concepts involve concern and emotional distress about environmental change.
Climate grief is more associated with global-scale environmental changes and the future of humanity, while solastalgia refers more to distress related to changes or losses in your home environment.
Climate grief remains an emerging field of study with limited long-term data. Because it isn’t a formal condition and the research is limited, there are no established symptoms of climate grief.
But as a form of grief, the experience may be similar to grieving in general.
For climate grief, it’s the source of grief that’s different, but not necessarily the experience.
Like with any other significant loss, you may experience:
- sleep disturbances
- appetite changes
- aches and pains
- social withdrawal
If environmental concerns have been on your mind lately and you’re experiencing grief-related emotions, you may be experiencing climate grief.
Yes, climate change can negatively affect your mental health.
Research suggests climate change can have both short-term and long-term effects on your mental health. These include:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- thoughts of suicide
- substance use
- aggression and violence
- trauma and shock
- compounded stress
- social strain
- loss of personal identity
- solastalgia and ecoanxiety
- loss of personal points of reference
A rise in planetary temperatures, for example, has been associated with an increase in suicide rates.
Coping with climate grief may be challenging. Contrary to other grieving experiences, losing the planet as we’ve known it may continue to gradually happen for years to come.
If you feel environmental changes are causing you distress to the point of interfering with your daily life, it may be a good idea to seek the support of a mental health professional.
You may also find solace in some of these coping strategies.
1. Having an emergency plan
Being prepared can help you feel you’re controlling some of the aspects that can be managed in such a situation.
You can make grab bags with essentials such as bottled water, fire starters, a first aid kit, and rain gear. Your plan can also include where to go in an emergency if the family gets separated.
Considering which areas in your country or the planet may experience less of a short-term impact can also help in case relocating is an option.
2. Focusing on values-based decisions
One way to combat feelings of helplessness associated with how you perceive climate grief is to turn to action.
Try to involve yourself in environmental programs, such as recycling initiatives, beach cleaning, or advocating for clean water.
Finding out what you can do on a daily basis — and educating others on these strategies — can also help you focus on possible solutions instead of what you perceive as a problem.
3. Seeking support
If thinking about climate change and its possible effects leads you to feel anxious, sad, or scared, consider reaching out for help.
Connecting with others with shared values and perspectives can help you feel less lonely, particularly if you’ve experienced a natural disaster or environmental loss.
Social support, in general, can help you cope with any sense of loss or grief.
4. Connecting with nature
Kevorkian advises people to go out and be with nature.
While it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by negative news and projected impacts, being in nature can remind you of all the joyful features still widely available and the importance of protecting them.
Reconnecting with important geographical locations can also provide relief.
Climate grief is a term used to describe a sense of mourning for climate change-related losses.
Like all forms of grief, how you experience this process is unique to you — there’s no right or wrong way. In all cases, it’s a valid experience.
If you’ve been grieving the planet for a long time and this is interfering with the way you relate to yourself and others, speaking with a mental health professional may help.