How DBT Skills Help With Climate Anxiety

As concerns rise for our climate and the future of our world, so does the anxiety that’s sweeping the planet. Increases in frequency of widespread wildfires and the length of wildfire season, along with rising temperatures and shifts in weather patterns leave many concerned and considering the long-term consequences for the Earth as well as the mental health of those who inhabit it. 

The sobering ramifications of climate change are real, and present. It’s normal to react to these with emotions like anxiety, despair, depression, or grief. Studies have shown for many, many years that the physical world around us can significantly impact our mental health and wellbeing, both positively and negatively. Nature can even help us recover quicker, reduce stress, and strengthen our immune systems. It’s therefore understandable that, with our deep physical ties to the earth - we find ourselves concerned and overwhelmed by the potential and looming destruction or death of our planet. 

With news feeds, social media, broadcasts, radio, and much more, it’s fairly impossible to escape the reality of the climate crisis, and consequently, the impact of these fears and anxieties on our stress levels and potential disregulation of our nervous system. 

Symptoms of climate anxiety include: 

  • Muscle tension 
  • Digestive changes 
  • Poor sleep 
  • Racing thoughts 
  • Obsessive rumination 
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Shifts in decision making (like not having children due to concerns for the future)

Unaddressed symptoms of anxiety can become chronic and lead to a significant, ongoing sense of fear along with restlessness, panic attacks, insomnia, headaches, nausea, body aches, stomach pain and more. Ongoing symptoms can be debilitating and seriously decrease your quality of life. 

When it comes to climate anxiety, one of the challenges is that the root cause of the anxiety is valid and rational. Therefore, treating these types of symptoms has to be done in a way that addresses the controllable factors around our experience, rather than removing the concern itself. 

While many types of therapy can help with anxiety, one type of therapy in particular may be significantly beneficial for those struggling with climate anxiety. This type of therapy is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which focuses on acknowledging and supporting the reality of our situation, while creating coping mechanisms that can help us live in the moment. Most anxiety, at its core, focuses on the future or situations, obstacles and challenges we can’t control. DBT helps us stay grounded and present in order to avoid focusing on those things. 

What is DBT?

DBT is founded upon the concept of dialectical thinking, which means our ability to embrace two opposite ideas or truths - in this case, the willingness to accept your reality and live in the moment, combined with a willingness to manifest positive change. 

DBT Modules 

There are four specific modules in DBT: 

  • Mindfulness: learning to be fully aware and present in the moment. For those coping with climate anxiety, this module can help them stay grounded and focused in their present reality. Staying mindful and present can help minimize stress and anxiety around circumstances and future worries. Meditation is a critical component of the mindfulness module, and this practice can be a pivotal tool for those suffering from panic attacks and the physical symptoms of anxiety such as heart racing episodes, sleep disorders, headaches, rapid breathing, nausea and more. 
  • Distress Tolerance: discovering how to tolerate emotional pain in difficult situations, rather than fight it. This module includes skills like Radical Acceptance, which helps patients to tolerate panic-inducing thoughts and ruminations. Rather than fighting reality and aggravating anxiety by avoiding negative situations, thoughts and feelings, Radical Acceptance teaches the transformative effect of understanding and accepting situations before creating change. Self-soothing skills are a significant part of the distress tolerance module, and are very beneficial for those suffering from ongoing anxiety. 
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: learning how to ask for what you want and establish boundaries while maintaining self-respect and healthy relationships with others. This module can help mitigate the impact of mild or paralyzing anxiety (which can cause patients to miss out on life events, act out impulsively, or feel out of control) by developing coping skills that can stop unwanted emotions from starting, regulate or change emotions in the moment, and create a level of comfort with unavoidable emotions that can be a part of everyday life. 
  • Emotion Regulation: discovering how to decrease susceptibility to painful emotions and purposefully change emotions that don’t serve you. This module helps anxious patients to diminish their worries and fears around relationships and social interaction. The goal of interpersonal effectiveness is to teach the skill of asking for what you want, saying no to what you don’t, and creating healthy boundaries out of self-respect. For many individuals with anxiety, initiating boundary setting or saying “no” can trigger intense worry, fear, and avoidance, so this module is critical to helping them improve.

In addition to utilizing DBT therapy to manage your climate anxiety, joining a peer-oriented online therapy group or support group can help you avoid isolation and create a common sense of understanding. In fact, there are online therapy groups that focus on DBT therapy which combines the best of both solutions. 

Looking to experience relief from climate anxiety? Grouport can help.

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