5 Ways Communities Are Coping With Climate Anxiety
Katie Hayes, Blake Poland and Mark Hathaway
This summer, wildfires erupted in California, torrential rains flooded parts of Japan, and record-breaking temperatures led to a number of heat-related deaths around the globe. Disasters like these are augmented by climate change, and scientists say extreme weather like this will increase and worsen as climate change accelerates.
And it's impacting our mental health.
Given the scale of climate change, it makes sense that people are worried about its impacts. And worry can lead to depression, anxiety, and persistent fear. While worry can be a motivator for action, it can also have the opposite effect, leaving us feeling powerless, overwhelmed and apathetic.
As research scientists who study the interaction between ecology and human health, we're interested in the ways that climate change impacts our mental health.People can experience everything from altruism, a sense of personal growth, and strong sense of community to post-traumatic stress disorder, panic, and anxiety after a climate-related extreme weather event. While less is known about the positive mental health effects from climate change, the impacts of climate-related extreme weather on mental illness is better established. For example, one year after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, researchers found an increased prevalence of PTSD, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts and plans. Research also suggests that climate change affects pre-existing mental health conditions. One study found that climate change exacerbated obsessive-compulsive disorder, with participants expressing obsessive-compulsive tendencies over wasting water, gas, and electricity; and obsessive fears about flooding and drought.
Like the other impacts of climate change, mental health impacts disproportionately affect different groups. Researchers, like epidemiologist Anthony McMichael, have noted that climate change amplifies existing social inequities. Indigenous people, the poor, seniors, children, and people of color bear the greatest burden of a changing climate.
So what is being done to address the mental health consequences of climate change? Recent scholarship—by us and others—shows that in many places, community-based responses are facilitating recovery, hope, and action.
Here are five community-based programs that are helping people confront—and cope with—the mental health consequences of climate change.
1. REACH NOLA breaks down barriers to provide mental health care after Hurricane Katrina
REACH NOLA is a New Orleans nonprofit collaborative of community-based faith groups, academics, health practitioners, and social service providers to address the mental health recovery of those impacted by Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, REACH NOLA established the Mental Health Infrastructure and Training Project to respond to the mental health effects of the hurricane. MHIT is a mental health care capacity-building project that provides guidance on mental health care training and implementation in at-risk communities.
Research documents how MHIT emerged after the hurricane in the lower 9th ward. The neighborhood was one of the hardest hit in New Orleans and predominantly made up of low-income African Americans with little access to mental health care. Noting the mental health needs of the neighborhood and gaps in care, the president of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association in the lower 9th ward teamed up with other organizations and mental health clinicians to found REACH NOLA and, subsequently, the MHIT project. Because the HCNA was already a trusted resource to neighborhood residents, it was able to help mental health clinicians reach community members in need.
Here's how they did it: Before health practitioners entered the community, HCNA community leads provided residents with information and education about depression and the potential for other mental health effects related to disastrous events like the hurricane. The aim was to dispel pervasive stigmas about mental health that would keep people from accessing help. Mental health practitioners then provided treatment to residents. They also trained lower 9th ward residents to offer mental health aid, who were then employed as community health workers in their neighborhood. This opportunity provided mental health services, employment, new career opportunities, and opportunities for residents to be stewards in their neighborhood's recovery.
2. "Safe Spot" trains businesses and organizations in psychological first aid after a super flood
Bridging community institutions with mental health care providers is a common approach to providing care after a climate-related disaster. The community of High River, Alberta, was left with mental health concerns long after government money and disaster response assistance dried up. In 2013, the town experienced a super flood that displaced the entire town of 13,000 people and resulted in four deaths. According to public health surveillance research, as well as stories from residents, many townspeople reported anxiety, trouble sleeping, and post-traumatic stress disorder following the flood.
In response, the town is currently implementing a mental health initiative called Safe Spot, which trains employees of business and agencies in psychological first aid to support community well-being. An orange dot in the windows of businesses lets community members know that they have a safe space to talk about, and seek support for, their mental health from trained community members. If someone is experiencing a crisis and they need support before they are able to access formal counseling or professional services, they can seek support from a local business or agency who has been trained in psychological community care. The idea is that every door is the right door to support community mental health and well-being.
3. The Transition Town Movement provides a space for connection and environmental activism
Transition Town initiatives throughout the United States, Canada, and around the world are part of a community-driven grassroots movement to help people cope with climate change, peak oil, and ecological degradation. At the heart of the movement is inner transition work, which is based on the idea that the relationship that we have with the natural world is a direct reflection of the relationship we have with our inner landscape.
Individual community members are supported through their inner transitions by community groups. These groups provide a space for residents to talk about fears and concerns about climate change, support each other in building community resilience, and provide opportunities to explore plans to transition to a low-carbon future. According to a study on the adoption of the transition model in 10 towns in Australia, researchers found it helped individuals develop lifestyle changes to reduce carbon emissions. They also found that developing an eco-spiritual connection helped individuals—especially women—incite action on climate change.
In the U.S., Transition U.S. is building a nationwide campaign to support community resilience and emergency preparedness. Called Ready Together, the campaign aims to prepare communities for environmental disasters—like climate-augmented extreme weather—through educational materials and action-oriented toolkits. The initiative is currently being launched with plans to include podcasts, webinars, workshops, and a Ready Together handbook to prepare communities for disasters. The campaign targets physical preparedness as well as mental health needs after a disaster.
4. Transformative processes to reconnect people with themselves and their environment
In some cases, communities are supporting individuals' spiritual growth to help them cope with climate change. The Work That Reconnects is a group process for cultivating spiritual growth first developed by Joanna Macy in the U.S. and now facilitated by trained educators around the globe. It's rooted in the belief that addressing climate change and other ecological crises starts with cultivating appreciation and gratitude for the Earth. At the same time, the facilitated groups provide safe places where people can share feelings of fear, doubt, guilt, and even despair. Recognizing that we experience pain about climate change because we are connected to all life and future generations—and understanding that we are not alone in experiencing this—can empower action.
The process employs a wide variety of meditative and interactive practices, many involving the use of the imagination to stimulate creativity and cultivate empathy. In a Work That Reconnects workshop led by Mark Hathaway for undergraduate environmental studies students at the University of Toronto, one student wrote in their reflection that the approach "highlights the interconnectedness of the participants with one another, as well as with the greater world, which once again leads to an emotional connection." Another student wrote that the process built a sense of empowerment and helped them experience "the capacity to instigate change."
5. One Earth Sanga: the online community that supports spiritual growth and ecological awareness
Some community-based mental health programs also help people reckon with the inequality that's exacerbated by climate change. One Earth Sanga is an online platform that helps people respond to the climate crisis through Buddhist teachings and its EcoSattva training program. This platform was co-founded by two Buddhist environmentalists, Kristin Barker and Lou Lenard, and was created in partnership with the Insight Meditation Community in Washington state. The online platform provides a digital space to learn, reflect, and take action on climate change.
One of the teachings on this platform—and highlighted in its training program—is about confronting Whiteness and addressing privilege as a necessary part of confronting climate change. The equity training that One Earth Sanga provides can be an important reckoning for many who sympathize with people on the front lines of climate change but may not recognize the role privilege and Whiteness plays in shielding them from many of the social, emotional, physical, and mental health consequences of climate change.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michael Svoboda
The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.
Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence
By Julia Conley
As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.
- Lemurs and Northern Right Whales Near Brink of Extinction ... ›
- Trump Administration Approves Harmful Seismic Blasting in Atlantic ... ›
By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
- Should I Exercise During the Coronavirus Pandemic? Experts ... ›
- If Meditation Is Not Your Thing, Try a Walk in the Woods - EcoWatch ›
In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
- Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their ... ›
- Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in ... ›
- Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights Advocates Rally for Wet'suwet'en ... ›
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 ... ›
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›
By Angela Nicoletti
The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.
- Global Frog Pandemic May Become Even Deadlier as Strains ... ›
- New Species of Diamond Frog Discovered in Remote Pocket of ... ›
- Frogs Are on the Verge of Mass Extinction, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›