Climate Mental Health
Cultivating Hope and Resilience
Hope is a teachable skill, an essential part of human development, and is the foundation for resilience. When working with youth, focus on realistic hope by recognizing the negative impacts of the climate crisis while stressing the silver lining, such as the potential for the climate crisis to bring people together as they support one another in the face of challenges. Developing hope can support physical and mental wellness, increase social connection, combat anxiety and depression, and improve the overall quality of life (read more).
Teaching hopefulness is essential if students are to learn how to cultivate hope. Hope is built by learning to manage stress, develop positive habits, expand relationships, overcome obstacles, and ultimately take solution-oriented action. A key part of resiliency, hope can help one overcome and heal from trauma.
Provide free time in nature to develop agency
Children who spend lots of time outdoors in nature are more likely to show pro-environmental behaviors as adults. Exploring, playing, and connecting with nature has important physical and mental health benefits, and is often recommended as a way to cope with stress. To build hope, emphasize experiences that both encourage a connection with nature and cope with a changing planet. Exploring and providing free time in nature, learning and taking individual and collective actions for the environment, pointing out examples of people who love and care for nature, and helping students gain comfort, confidence, and agency in nature are all examples of experiences that both promote nature connection and constructive hope.
Use cognitive behavioral interventions to reframe negative thoughts to be more objective and realistic
Using elements of cognitive behavioral interventions while working with youth and in classrooms can help students reframe negative thoughts and cope with climate change. Examples of ways to help youth reframe negative thoughts to be more objective and realistic are:
- Have youth identify the negative thought related to climate change they are struggling with, including all-or-nothing thinking (ex. "All of humanity is doomed").
- Just because a thought exists doesn't make it true. Encourage youth to use logic to challenge that negative thought.- Ask "Is it really 100% true that all of humanity is doomed?" Encourage youth to replace the thought with a more realistic thought like "The future on this planet will look different from what it looks like right now."
- Ask youth "Is this thought helpful right now?" If not, have them focus on a helpful thought, like "There are things I can do to help combat the impacts of climate change."
Reframe "eco-anxiety" to "eco-empathy" or "eco-compassion"
When working with youth to address their feelings around climate change impacts, a reframing from the word eco-anxiety to eco-compassion or eco-empathy can shift the focus from the negative traits associated with anxiety to the positive traits associated with compassion, like connection, care, and empathy. It also takes youth away from seeing negative emotions associated with climate change as problematic, and instead see them as a "call to healing" that will empower action.
Use sustainable well-being practices and positive education
Focus on behavior towards the future to build resilience. Encourage youth to explore multiple solutions and act in small, manageable steps. Help youth to think and feel positive, identify and use their personal strengths, collaborate with others, and lean on support systems. People who can reframe negative circumstances and be more optimistic tend to be more resilient. Based on cognitive behavioral therapies and positive psychology, the framework for sustainable well-being to the right provides ten rules to guide how to change thoughts, emotions, and behavior related to environmental issues.
Share examples of hope: people caring for the natural world, innovations, stories
Sharing stories of people involved in climate and energy research, climate and energy policy, resource management, sustainability, education, advocacy, and others, can make youth realize that millions of people are working on initiatives to help the Earth- they are not alone in this work and there are thousands of ways they can contribute now and in the future. Capture youth's attention by sharing interesting and innovative solutions to the climate crisis so that students can imagine what is and could be possible- just because a specific solution doesn't exist now, doesn't mean it won't exist in the future.