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“While optimism is certainly associated with individual well-being, it’s what allows us to take action. If you’re a pessimist, then why bother?”
In this episode, Dr. Joe speaks with Susan Clayton, Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster. Susan is a globally-recognized authority on the mental health impacts of climate change. She is the lead author of the American Psychological Association (APA) report on Mental Health and Our Changing Climate and a contributor to the upcoming report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She is also the author and editor of the Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology and Identity and the Natural Environment. Her work focuses on the intersection of mental health, environmentalism, and social psychology.
In this episode, Dr. Joe and Professor Clayton explore:
- The basic scientific facts of climate change
- The mental health impacts of climate change, including eco-anxiety
- The economics and politics of climate change
- Recommendations for building resilience in the face of eco-anxiety
- The possibility of broad social and economic transformation to adapt to climate change
If you’d like some support in coping with your concerns about climate change, Mindspace can help. We are launching an eco-anxiety support group in January and we have a few psychologists who specialize in this area. Please visit mindspacewellbeing.com/eco-anxiety for more information.
Here are some highlights from their conversation:
Building Resilience, Taking Action, and Social Connections
One of the things that I recommend to people is that they take action to cope with their eco-anxiety. What kind of action do you recommend people take if they’re experiencing eco-anxiety?
I definitely encourage people to take action. But I leave it to them to decide what they’re comfortable with. I could certainly offer people my opinion about what would be the most effective thing to do. But some people might want to focus on changing their own lifestyle. Some people might want to get politically involved. I think getting actively engaged in some way is more important in terms of personal resilience than–
So why is taking action helping build resilience?
One of the things that I think underlies a lot of this anxiety is helplessness. So if you do something, you don’t feel as helpless. You feel like you have been able to make a difference at some level. And that’s really important.
I think another fringe benefit is–particularly, I encourage people not just to get engaged, but to find ways to engage with other people. So they’re strengthening their social connections.
There are all kinds of positive social experiences that can be involved. I think anyone who has participated in a rally or some sort of group organized event knows that fellow feeling, that self-congratulation in a good way when you actually succeed in getting something done or just that you’ve all experienced this together.
So those positive emotions and social connections also contribute to resilience.
Just for the record, the third recommendation that I do give people is to stay connected to friends, family, and colleagues around these issues because it’s important to not suffer alone.
A Possibility for Transformation
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Just an emphasis on the possibility for transformation.
It’s always hard to believe that change is going to happen. But actually social change has happened enormously in my lifetime, just in terms of the internet and smartphones, which are relatively new. I mean my students got them when they were in middle school or high school, but they didn’t grow up with them. And yet, I think we would all agree that smartphones have completely changed the way we live our lives. And inventions are happening faster and faster. So I think more and more things are on the way.
I think it’s helpful to think not just ‘Oh my God. This terrible climate change stuff is happening. And we’re going to have to change our lives, and it’s all going to be bad.’ But to recognize that this is kind of an opportunity to change society in hopefully some ways that will be good because I think most people would say there are ways society can be improved right now. And maybe the kinds of changes that climate change will force us to make will be changes that actually have other benefits.