Active Minds and SGA Host Event to Help Those Coping with Climate Anxiety

By Ben Hopper

On Thursday, February 24, Active Minds and the Student Government Association held an event in order to help students deal with climate anxiety. The event offered students a safe space to talk about their fears regarding the environment as well as provide people with skills and practices to deal with this anxiety.

The event began with the presentation of a Ted Talk titled, “How to Turn Climate Anxiety into Action.” During the TED talk, speaker Renée Lertzman began by validating these feelings of climate anxiety. She explained that they’re totally normal and something she also experienced back when she was a college freshman

Lertzman found that talking openly about these issues and her fear regarding them with other people who felt the same made her feel better. From this she came to what she described as an “epiphany,” that “What if by understanding ourselves and one another, we could find our way through this crisis in a new and different way?”

With this in mind and through her research in clinical psychology, Lertzman shared three concepts that she believes people should know. The first being the idea of each of us having a “window of tolerance.” Which is based on how much stress each of us is able to take while staying connected to how we feel. Too much stress can push us to either side of the window where we’re left feeling depressed on one side or in denial and angry on the other. Lertzman went on to explain how with climate change any new information coming out has the potential to push us outside our window of tolerance.

The second concept is the idea of a double bind, which Lertzman describes simply as the feeling of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Here people’s worries and concerns become so overwhelming they present as apathy. So people try to get others to care by displaying more information regarding climate change. But this causes more stress and people become even more overwhelmed.

The third concept is attunement, which is described by Lertzman as, “feeling in sync, when we feel understood and we feel accepted for exactly where we are. And we feel that, you know, we’re in relationship with the world in a way that makes sense, no one’s trying to change us or shame us or judge us.”

Once the Ted Talk was finished the room was opened up to a discussion about each of our fears regarding climate change. Attunement was important in this as everyone listened and didn’t invalidate how anyone else was feeling. 

One student brought up how she feels guilty going into the medical field because of how much single use plastic is used. Another student brought up how you can put something into a recycling bin but you don’t have a guarantee it’ll actually be recycled. Because of this she said things feel hopeless and that brings her a great deal of anxiety. 

An important point that was brought up was how we need to be kinder ourselves and not as severely critical. An example being if you’re depressed and can’t do the dishes, you don’t need to beat yourself up because you used plastic utensils. 

After the discussion a number of ways to reduce your climate anxiety were brought up. These methods included, getting involved in a movement, focusing on what you are able to do, connecting with others, and practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is about lowering your stress by focusing on yourself in the present moment. The event concluded with a mindfulness exercise where everyone closed their eyes and followed guided instructions. Participants were to focus on their breathing, how their bodies felt against the chair they sat in, and other general observations about their bodies. The exercise was calming and by the time it finished it seemed people felt much more at ease.

Overall this event gave people struggling with climate anxiety a lot of information. It was emphasized throughout the validity of these feelings and that there were others who felt the same. As well it was made clear the positive impact talking to and being understanding of each other can have. The power of mindfulness was also demonstrated. With all the information presented and the activities conducted it feels safe to say people who attended are better equipped to deal with climate anxiety then they were before.