Mother earth & the mother of all anxiety

A question you can ask yourself is: am I feeling anxious within myself, and the changing climate can be a suitable outlet for this feeling, or am I anxious because this is something which justifiably causes me to worry?


Worrying about something which is a valid concern is not a weakness, it is a healthy response. It is also a potentially useful one, it can create the motivation needed to take action in either challenging or remedying the situation.

Anxiety does not like to exist in a freeform state, so like steam which has a preferred state of water (therefore condenses on something cool and solid), likewise anxiety prefers to attach itself to something more tangible. For us, this can manifest as something which has already been identified as a cause for anxiety, for instance: a parent scared of spiders, noise, crowds etc. Alternately it may be something which has alarmed us via the news streams, such as the recent pandemic, or currently the changing climate.

David Attenborough, when talking to the security council of the United Nations in 2023, stated that climate change was ‘the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced’ he continued ‘If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security…food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature and ocean food chains’.

If the anxiety is within yourself then it could be time to start addressing this feeling, either by yourself or with the help of someone who can empathise with those feelings. However, if it is an understandable reaction to climate and environmental degradation, how can you manage your response?


Even when there is overwhelming amounts of scientific evidence and personal observation of the changes in the climate, people still go blithely about their business. In the face of such disregard, this can intensify the worry; you may wonder why there is a lack of urgency in addressing the problem, and what are these apparent poles of response: panic or freeze? People can understandably feel torn by those inner and outer conflicts

Regarding the freeze response, depth psychology recognises that when something is too frightening or overwhelming to accept, then humans will just stop processing it.

Another way is to rationalise the problem, for instance: using an over-reliance on   “progress” to solve the problem. A further alternative is to consider oneself entitled to continue living as always, using examples of others -who damage more- with which to compare oneself favourably

The split we have is the separation of the mind and emotions, or in the outer world: that there is science, and there is an emotional response to climate change and environmental degradation, and they should stay separate. This is not true.

People can understand the facts of the situation and have feelings about it. Much like how some people can be brought up with the rational versus the emotional, we are being offered another split by governments, the media and invested others, in regard to the earth.

“Climate change and environmental destruction threaten us with powerful feelings – loss, guilt, anxiety, shame and despair – that are difficult to bear and mobilise defences such as denial and distortion which can undermine our capacity to get to grips with the issue.” (Hoggett, 2019, p. 8)


Rather than feeling a part of a living world of land, air, plants, rocks, animals and water, modern humans have turned them into resources, there for our use and consumption. Gradually, human relations to the natural world have been monetised; that is, treated in terms of their financial value. 

As humans, separating ourselves from nature is counterintuitive. Ecopsychology rejects the separation and exaltation of humans, the value of nature being its usefulness to humans. Instead, humans are enmeshed with, and dependent upon, our natural world. The well-being of humans and the ecological health of the planet are dependent on this intimate human-nature relationship. In other words, the more disconnected we become from nature, the more our psychological health suffers and the negative cycle of planetary damage continues.

Ecopsychology seeks to reconnect and help the healing of the earth.

People can feel isolated with their feeling when surrounded by those in denial. We need to bridge the divide to deal with these anxieties, perhaps we may feel better with the support of local organisations, such as climate action groups, nature conservation groups and climate cafes. If these support structures are not enough, the help of a therapist experienced in climate anxiety is advised.

You don’t feel like you can make any difference

In the face of the forces of governments, large wealthy corporations (especially fossil fuel companies), and apathetic media, you can feel helpless. The culprits depleting our natural resources use misdirection, confusion and financial incentives to continue on their path. It should be noted that younger people can feel that they have less power to stop any further harm than their elders, and that apparent powerlessness may create a greater impact on them. You may feel that you cannot connect to your own power; however you do have power, and you can make a difference. You can change your own behaviour, you can influence the behaviour of others, and you can do this alone or with the support of your community.

Release the energy trapped in anxiety and use it to create positive change in the world. If you struggle to harness your energy or feel your inner power, then perhaps now is the time to seek the help of a therapist experienced in the subject of climate change anxiety.

How you can help the situation

  • Educate yourself about the changes in climate and biodiversity; then educate others.
  • Use your voice: vote for those nurturing the environment; protest against those damaging it. 
  • Use your money to talk for you: invest with those who have a sustainable approach to the environment.
  • Increase your care of nature: the air, waterways and earth.
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle.

It is important to understand that -presently- it can be difficult to make changes due to the established infrastructure of the country. For example, how can you reduce your gas consumption when the property you are renting has existing gas central heating? It is hard not to feel guilty, helpless or hypocritical, given our somewhat limited choices.

Remember that even a small positive change will be a move in the right direction. Change can, and is, being made right now by concerned groups and individuals. By looking after the planet you are also looking after yourself - and vice versa

It’s an irony in these times of depleted and depleting nature, that one of the remedies for poor mental health is a “Green prescription”; in other words, getting out into nature. So what happens when one’s mental health is characterised by climate change anxiety, and the weather is acting “strangely”; it is a distressing paradox. Self-care is an important part of life and one which therapists are keen to encourage in their clients. By looking after the earth you look after yourself and those for whom you care. 

We are of the earth and its power, we reflect that world and feel both its pain and joy. 


Hoggett, P. (2019) ‘Introduction’, in P. Hoggett (ed.) Climate Psychology: On Indifference to Disaster. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1–19.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London E8
Written by Jennifer Burn, MBACP Therapeutic Counsellor
London E8

I am a therapeutic counsellor who has a particular feel for, and interest, in working with those struggling with anxiety.

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