What is Eco-Anxiety?

Article by: McKenna Hereford, Ph.D.

It feels impossible to scroll through the news without seeing an intense headline about climate change. This week alone, CBS News published a headline titled “Sea Levels Rise: Scientists Find ‘Unprecedented’ Rates.” It’s no wonder we often feel a sense of panic or impending doom after reading news about the rapid effects of climate change! It feels especially present after reading headlines meant to grab your attention.

That’s why scientists have started studying eco-anxiety. 

Eco-anxiety, also sometimes called climate anxiety, is defined as a constellation of emotions associated with awareness that climate change is occurring” (Clayton et al., 2023). Researchers, noticing the uptick in this phenomenon, started conducting studies to gain an understanding of what this anxiety looks like, where it occurs, how people cope, why, and who tends to experience this type of anxiety. Is this anxiety unique or similar to other manifestations of anxiety? Do people experience more panic related to climate change? Researchers have quickly attempted to capture answers to these questions. What have they found so far?


First, what is eco-anxiety? Researchers have disagreed on the term, with some saying this involves chronic anxiety and others describing anxiety as a natural response to ever-evolving climate change (Coffey et al., 2021). Many have arrived at a general consensus that climate anxiety occurs on a spectrum, from mild lingering anxiety to a sense of doom. Researchers also agree that, for many people, the intensity of the anxiety appears proportionate to the real fear of the future on Earth. 

Importantly, other terms might capture similar and somewhat different internal reactions to climate change. While eco-anxiety refers to fearing the impacts of climate change in the future, ecological grief has been coined to describe current and anticipated losses to the planet (Coffey et al., 2021). Similarly, environmental distress refers to reactions toward destruction to one’s own home and ecosystems. Eco-angst, however, describes the heavier despair at the state of the planet due to climate change. All these terms have been referenced in research previously, leading scientists to synthesize internal experiences (grief, anxiety, distress, etc.) due to climate change. Other emotions, such as anger, hopelessness, trauma reactions, and panic attacks have been described under the spectrum of eco-anxiety as well (Coffey et al., 2021).

People Experiencing Eco-Anxiety

The answers appear to be evolving as this is written! Many people from all backgrounds experience anxiety due to climate change. In fact, people all over the world report emotional reactions under the climate anxiety umbrella (Clayton et al., 2023). Perhaps a better question is: who is more likely to experience eco-anxiety?

Eco-anxiety might affect men and women differently. Researchers have found some conflicting results about the prevalence of eco-anxiety among cisgender men and women (Clayton et al., 2023). Most recently, researchers looking at an international sample found that women were more likely to worry about climate change and more specifically experience depression. Women also might be more likely to believe that governments have failed and/or betrayed people regarding protecting the environment (Clayton et al., 2023). Men might be more likely to feel assured by the government or feel indifferent, depending on the sample in research studies. Overall, researchers believe that women might experience eco-anxiety more frequently as a result of higher direct effects from climate change due to lower access to resources and information (Cisse et al., 2022).

Does age influence one’s perspective on climate change? Popular headlines have perhaps captured differences in age and opinions on climate change. Younger people are generally more likely to experience eco-anxiety than older adults (Clayton, 2020). Greater access to social media headlines, higher likelihood of experiencing direct climate change effects, and lower power to impact relevant policies all likely contribute to higher climate anxiety among younger people (Clayton et al., 2023; Coffey et al., 2021). Interestingly, folks younger than 25 are also less likely to discuss climate change, potentially due to competing important factors and/or feeling dismissed.

Geographic location has intrigued researchers recently as well. After all, different countries may have varied political beliefs and climate change effects on their lives and economies. In a study surveying people in various countries, researchers found that, in general, people living in countries facing the largest impacts of climate change (India, the Philippines, and Nigeria) reported higher levels of anxiety impacting function (Clayton et al., 2023). On the other hand, residents in the US and Finland were less likely to report disrupted functioning, which aligns with the higher economic resources and less significant impacts from climate change. People in the US were also the least likely to discuss climate change with others. Cultural values may also play a role in responses to climate change, and much more research is needed among collectivistic cultures and, more specifically, indigenous cultures.

What We Can Do

Interestingly, our emotions can motivate us! There is some debate about the degree to which eco-anxiety is a natural response to climate change and if this requires a diagnosis. Regardless, our emotions serve important functions. In fact, people experiencing reactions that manifest as anger tend to engage in more community action against climate change (Coffey et al., 2021). This makes sense, especially if you’ve ever experienced frustration or anger that then leads you to action! People experiencing more anxiety-related emotions are less likely to translate the internal experience into action in a helpful way. Age might add a complex layer to discussing thoughts/feelings with others as well, impacting potential action plans. It’s hard to know what to do, especially when you lack sociopolitical power! Still, many have tried to find potential coping strategies for eco-anxiety, particularly because the anxiety is a response to a collective event (Wang et al., 2023).

Eco-Anxiety Strategies (Wang et al., 2023):

  • Sharing knowledge and resources with others online or in person
  • Storytelling as a vehicle for inspiring action 
  • Finding community members who are willing to engage in more socially adaptive disruptive behaviors
  • Reframing messaging that elicits anxiety to motivational messages eliciting more helpful emotions and actions 
  • Turning toward elders and cultures that engage in more collectivist approaches
  • Processing emotions in therapy that aligns with your values

The last few years have added stress collectively to our lives, including climate anxiety. It’s not normal to experience multiple chronic stressors, and it’s difficult to cope and transform these experiences into action. Community, activism, and all kinds of healing are all helpful and in ways that align with your own value systems!


Cissé, G., McLeman, R., Adams, H., Aldunce, P., Bowen, K., Campbell-Lendrum, D., … & Tirado, M. C. (2022). 2022: Health, wellbeing, and the changing structure of communities.

Clayton, S., & Karazsia, B. T. (2020). Development and validation of a measure of climate change anxiety. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 69, 101434.

Clayton, S. D., Pihkala, P., Wray, B., & Marks, E. (2023). Psychological and emotional responses to climate change among young people worldwide: Differences associated with gender, age, and country. Sustainability, 15(4), 3540.

Coffey, Y., Bhullar, N., Durkin, J., Islam, M. S., & Usher, K. (2021). Understanding eco-anxiety: A systematic scoping review of current literature and identified knowledge gaps. The Journal of Climate Change and Health, 3, 100047.

Wang, H., Safer, D. L., Cosentino, M., Cooper, R., Van Susteren, L., Coren, E., … & Sutton, S. (2023). Coping with eco-anxiety: An interdisciplinary perspective for collective learning and strategic communication. The Journal of Climate Change and Health, 9, 100211.

Go deep with one of our therapists.