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Climate anxiety impacting more young people; Expert offers suggestions on how to handle it

Expert tips on coping with climate anxiety
Expert tips on coping with climate anxiety 02:49

NEW YORK - As our climate changes and extreme weather events increase, climate anxiety becomes more prevalent - especially among our youngest generation.

CBS2's Vanessa Murdock spoke with an expert about climate anxiety and a young woman who managed hers by taking action.

"It's this feeling that just wells up," said Sofia Assag. "Anxiety is something that takes over your body." 

Assab shares climate anxiety started to affect her during her senior year of high school, when she enrolled in a class called "Global futures/Global warming." The class examined what life would be like in 2050, and led her to ask big questions. 

"What am I doing? Is there going to be a future? There's this feeling of someone who is young who hasn't really set up a path yet, do I want to have a family? Do I want to have kids? What is this world going to look like?" Assab said. 

"We see this a lot in our practice," said Dr. Jamie Howard, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. 

"Is there an age group that we see this most prevalent in?" Murdock asked. 

"I'm seeing a lot of anxiety focused on the climate in school age and adolescent kids," Howard said. 

Howard says climate anxiety has become more prevalent over the last decade and is most common in those who have generalized anxiety disorder - chronic worries about everyday things. 

"Kids with generalized anxiety are very sensitive to the environment around them and really aware and alert in picking up things in the media and the news on social media," Howard said. 

According to Media and Climate Change Observatory at University of Colorado Boulder, the number of television news stories on climate change or global warming increased by 85% from 2000 to 2021. Makes sense, when you consider this data from Climate Central on the acceleration of billion dollar disasters: In 2000, there were roughly 60 days between them. In 2021, just 18 days.

In addition, a climate change survey published in The Lancet in 2021 found "Climate anxiety and distress were correlated with perceived inadequate government response and associated feelings of betrayal." The conclusion is based on responses from 10,000 young people from around the globe, including 1,000 from the U.S. 

 The survey also revealed:

  • 59% very or extremely worried
  • 84% at least moderately worried
  • More than 45% shared feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.

"They're really internalizing it and becoming quite scared about it," Howard said. "So much so that some teenagers will say why even apply to college, what's it matter?"

So what should you If your child suffers from climate anxiety?

"What we want to encourage kids to do is take action," Howard said. He called it one of the most helpful solutions - do something to reduce the perceived threat. 

In November, climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared on BBC's "The One Show" and said taking action worked for her.

Greta Thunberg on how to tackle climate anxiety | The One Show - BBC by BBC on YouTube

"For me, it helped to do something concrete. I started to read up on it and educate myself. When I became more aware about it, I sort of knew myself what I could do," Thunberg said. 

She started school strikes for climate. Connecting with like-minded people also helped.

"Who feel the same, who share the same values as you. Because when you're together in the struggle then there are no limits to what you can accomplish," she said. 

Assab shares that is exactly how she managed her own anxiety. In college, she cofounded a webinar series Generation M.A.D., which focused on conversations about climate.

"Talk about this, just have it out in the open," Assab said. 

Those conversations helped her heal. Today, she works as an environmental, social and governance consultant.

"Knowing that I go into work every day, helping... that gives me a lot of relief," she said. 

Pay attention to the helpers and all the progress being made, adds Howard. This will offer a sense of hope for our collective future. 

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