Part 2: How Does Eco-Anxiety Affect Global Citizens?

Leyla Acaroglu
Disruptive Design


This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 1 is here and is recommended reading before this article.

Deep, complex emotional reactions to the realities of climate change are an important and natural response to an existential threat, and the way that the resulting eco-anxiety affects people is different. Where someone lives, their socio-economic situation, gender, age, cultural identity and worldview will impact the type and intensity of the feelings held regarding environmental destruction.

Since the concept first entered the modern lexicon, there has been a significant increase in awareness, with Oxford Languages (2019) recording a 4290% increase in the use of the term eco-anxiety in English-language media sources during 2019 alone.

In this article, we will explore some of the contextual aspects of climate and eco-anxiety, looking at the diversity of lived experiences and reflecting on our own experiences. The harsh reality of climate change is that many of the most affected communities are not the ones who have contributed to the creation of the issues. There are deep inequalities and systemic issues with all environmental impacts; thus, emotional reactions vary in relation to this.

Here, an adoption of a climate justice lens and further research into the impact that geographical context has on eco-emotional experiences is needed. This would allow for a more nuanced conversation and exploration of coping and support strategies.

The research shows that vulnerability to climate anxiety is most prevalent among those who:

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As discussed in Part 1 of this series, there is a difference between feeling anxious about the anticipated effects of the climate crisis and reacting to the current experiences caused by a lived reality of climate change-related losses.

There is even a new term for this called ”solastalgia”, which is the “distress caused by the transformation, deterioration, and degradation of one’s environment with relevance to the environment-health-place nexus.” Events that can trigger solastalgia include exposure to ecological destruction from prolonged environmental changes such as land clearing, biodiversity loss or forest fires; experiencing extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, or hurricanes; and changes to the built environment such as rapid industrialization or gentrification. This state is directly linked to the experience of your connected environment being transformed in ways that affect your connection to or perception of that space.

The relationship between loss and grief is well established, so it’s no wonder that people feel deep grief and fear when confronted with the destruction of nature, be it by climate-induced disasters or human-made systems. The knowledge of loss, even if not experienced directly, can be triggering, as it presents a trend that one can assume will lead to greater losses.

Here, we have compiled some different perspectives on the issue of eco-anxiety and loss from a diversity of regions and demographic groups where data is available. It’s worth noting that much of the research to date has been Western-focused.

Young People and Youth

It’s often reported that climate and eco-anxiety affect young people most. Many academic studies report this, such as this 2022 study published in The Lancet which states that climate anxiety affects 16 to 25-year-olds and “…occurs mainly in lower-income countries located in areas that are more directly affected by climate change.” Given that youth are most likely to experience the consequences of climate change in their lifetime, yet have little perceived agency to stop the impacts now, this is very understandable.

Furthermore, a commonly cited study by Caroline Hickman and colleagues from the University of Bath in the UK polled 10,000 youths aged 16 to 25 years with 1,000 participants from each of 10 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines (which showed the greatest number of young people experiencing climate anxiety), Portugal, the UK, and the USA. According to the study, “Countries expressing more worry and a greater impact on functioning tended to be poorer, in the Global South, and more directly impacted by climate change; in the Global North, Portugal (which had dramatic increases in wildfires since 2017) showed the highest level of worry.”

This study also found that 84% of respondents were at least “moderately worried” and 59% were very or “extremely worried” about the impacts of climate change. Over 45% stated their feelings about climate change negatively impacted their daily life and functioning with many facing negative thoughts, including that the future is frightening and people have failed to take care of the planet. Climate anxiety was reported to impact their life choices and decision-making (e.g. hesitancy to have children), causing a negative perspective of the future and their family security and disillusionment with the government.

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Over half of the respondents in this study reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty; they also said people had ignored or dismissed their feelings of climate anxiety. This demonstrates a trend where expressed eco-anxiety is dismissed or undermined as being an overreaction or something that is irrelevant and only affects young people.

Interestingly, just under 20% of the respondents explained that they don’t talk to other people about climate change. When we perceive a threat, we exhibit a fight-flight-freeze response as a biological survival mechanism. The freeze response to climate change can manifest in eco-paralysis, resulting in depression, despair or as highlighted in this case, the inability to respond due to shock and overwhelm, causing the avoidance of the issue. But it can also result in a choice to avoid the threat and ignore it as this also can offer a perception of cognitive safety.


While current research indicates that eco-anxiety is most prevalent among young people, it is important not to underestimate the experiences of climate-related worry in adult age groups.

Research into the relationship between eco-anxiety and age is still developing. One survey by the University of York and Global Future think tank surveyed 2100 people from Great Britain and found that eco-anxiety was widespread with three-quarters (75%) of adults in Great Britain saying they were worried about the impact of climate change, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN).

Another study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reported in 2022 that 64% of Americans are at least “somewhat worried” about climate change with 27% being “very worried” whereby the sample demographic was born between 1928 to 2012. Furthermore, the American Psychiatric Association reported in 2020 that 42% of Baby Boomers and 58% of Gen Xers are “somewhat” or “very concerned” about the impact of climate change on their mental health. Research from Switzerland in 2023 indicated that older people are engaging in pro-environmental behaviours out of concern for future generations.

This study also highlighted that older people tend to express their concerns through different emotional responses than younger people. The reality is that many people will live through climate trauma, and the outcome of this acute experience can be a very real disturbance with eco-anxiety as a symptom. Adults do tend to process trauma in different ways to children and there is still much work to be done to understand how eco-anxiety and direct trauma experienced in adults affect their life choices, mental health and wellbeing.

We are conducting a survey to explore this more; please take a few minutes to respond here.

Gender-Based Impacts

There is a gendered element to this all as well. Whilst multiple studies like the University of York research mentioned above report that women are more anxious about climate change than men, it’s also identified that many other emotions such as guilt, shame, grief, stress and being overwhelmed can be hidden under anger. This is particularly the case for men, which demonstrates the importance of not just attributing climate anxiety to women or young people, as it so often is.

When considering who climate anxiety affects and how, we have to acknowledge there will be identity politics around the term, which could affect people’s willingness to identify with it at all.

Non-Western Communities

Much of the available research on the topic of eco-anxiety and the subset of climate anxiety has been conducted in Western communities. However, there is a call for non-Western research to focus on the array of impacts on people from diverse communities around the world. Studies documenting interventions have been conducted in Nigeria, Hati and Tuvalu, which take into account the effects of climate-related events and explore different interventions based on unique cultural and social conditions to address the negative effects of climate-related anxiety.

Some see the term and its current definition as being too reductive and vague to detail their complex relationship with the planet and the injustices they face. Additionally, whether people identify with the term depends on the definition provided to them which, as we looked at in Part 1, the definitions do vary. Thus, this will impact who and how someone associates feelings with the term.

The realities of climate change disproportionately affect people of lower socioeconomic countries and the communities that deal with the brunt of the burden are those that have not benefited from the last 200 years of industrialization the same way Western countries have. So, there is a significant imbalance in the global distribution of impacts and effects of climate change. Furthermore, the concept of anxiety may be perceived differently in non-western cultures based on localized practices which needs to be taken into account.

Indigenous and First Nations People

A systemic literature review conducted by Vecchio (et al 2022) describes the critical threat exposure that Indigenous people face when it comes to climate change, explaining that “unlike Western models of health, the land and sea are key determinants of general health, psychological, and cultural well-being for Indigenous communities globally.”

Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable given that their well-being is directly linked to caring for and connection to country and land. The disturbances that climate change brings exacerbate the physical and mental health impacts that First Nations experience. As such, this can’t be measured in the same way that Western health systems determine. “This intrinsic connection and reliance on natural environments is seen as vital for facilitating health, strength, and cultural wellbeing.”

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Vecchio (et al 2022)’s study on the existing literature showed that many Indigenous communities experienced a correlation between cumulative changes in their environments and decreased mental well-being, which was expressed through worry, fear, sadness, emotional distress and a decreased sense of self-worth. There was variation based on regional locations, the details of which can be explored more here in section 3.3.1.

This study on Indigenous Inuit in Canada detailed how climate change, connected with historical injustices, “eroded Inuit wellbeing, expressed through distress, anxiety, depression, social tension, suicide ideation and deep feelings of cultural loss.”

Direct experiences can increase the intensity of the negative emotions, just as a lack of direct experience can decrease the perception of threat. Many Indigenous communities have been custodians over the land for extensive generations with knowledge being passed down, so they are more acutely aware of changes and well-positioned to provide solutions.

There are places like Tuvalu in the South Pacific where the experience and threats are lived every day by all inhabitants and thus pose an immediate existential threat. The losses are hard to define as “anxiety” when the reality is that the community experiences a daily lived fear of being displaced, but little is being done by the global community to prevent them from losing their country and home.

Anxiety to Action

Academic institutions and organizations in the climate action space have started to identify protective coping mechanisms. These include terms such as “active hope” and “meaning-focused coping”, which emphasize acting in accordance with one’s own values, developing positive framings, and creating hope through action.

One key factor that plays into the degree of climate anxiety is “knowing danger is coming but not having any appropriate scripts, skills, or direct agency in place to mitigate it”, and many interventions are popping up to help address this.

For example, Climate Cafés offer a decentralized drop-in space that allows individuals to gather and meet in a neutral space to discuss and make sense of their positive or negative climate-related emotions. This model of Climate Cafés has been adopted widely, and The Good Grief Network also developed a 12-step approach (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous) where trained peer facilitators offer a 10-week group program for individuals interested in recognizing and exploring their eco-distress while being supported in finding tangible actions that can help them. For more examples, see this article in Nature.

Engaging in action in the face of climate change offers one way of regaining a sense of power and building personal agency, which could improve mental health. However, this is where the location and context of the individual directly affect the ability to access such support and ensure that it’s appropriate for the level of real threat.

Another danger is that when people feel anxiety and powerlessness, they can double down on avoidance, which can further exacerbate the anxiety and climate denialism; this underscores the need for open, constructive dialogue on the reality of the changes underway and how to balance the threats with the realities of action.

In the final article in this series, we will share a detailed list of actions for addressing eco-anxiety as provided in the literature and also release a toolkit for communities, individuals, workplaces and policy changes that can support transforming anxiety into action. In the meantime, here is a list of resources that can support you.

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We are running a survey capturing individual experiences with eco-anxiety. The data will be used anonymously in our upcoming toolkit for dealing with eco-anxiety. Please take a few minutes to share your experience here.

Thank you to Charlotte Adams for her research and writing contributions to this article.



Leyla Acaroglu
Disruptive Design

UNEP Earth Champ, Designer, Sociologist, Sustainability & Circular Provocateur, TED Speaker, Founder:, &