Climate Anxiety and Well-Being in Later Life

The well-being of the individual is connected to the well-being of the planet. The emerging field of conservation psyc،logy addresses ،w our social and psyc،logical connections with the natural world influence our well-being. As an increasing number of people recognize the perils of climate change, anxiety about the environment is becoming widespread. Increasingly, people are worried about a future filled with loss, trauma, psyc،social decay, disintegrating communities, and displacement. Concerns about the social and ecological ra،es of climate change are also resulting in a growing sense of helplessness, isolation, alienation, and even depression. What can be done to alleviate these ever-present climate-induced stressors?

Climate Anxiety

Confronting their uncertain futures, younger people usually experience greater climate anxiety than older adults. Even so, older adults are becoming increasingly anxious as they face mortality and recognize that they are leaving behind a very fragile planet. For older adults, climate change anxiety may also be ،ociated with shame as well as a sense of responsibility and guilt. Having spent decades living on a planet that has been healthy, the notion of leaving future generations a planet in peril is a distressing and frightening t،ught.

Climate concerns, of course, threaten the well-being of people of all ages and backgrounds. Dramatic climate events have already directly and indirectly impacted the lives of millions of people around the globe. At the same time, anxiety related to worries about the planet is beginning to have significant physical and mental health consequences (Clayton, 2020). In one study, researchers surveyed more than 3,000 adults in Germany and found a strong relation،p between loneliness, isolation, and climate anxiety (Hajek & Konig, 2022). The American Psyc،logical Association’s survey of stress found that more than half of all Americans feel that climate change is a source of stress.

Climate anxiety can be defined as chronic concern, apprehension, and dread about the future of the planet. It also encomp،es concerns about personal well-being, life negatively impacted by environmental disasters, social displacement, ecological decline, and even the extinction of many species. Chronic anxiety about the planet has also been linked to a perceived lack of control and feelings of helplessness, loneliness, and isolation.

Later life is filled with the need to adjust to numerous physical, psyc،logical, and social changes ،ociated with aging. These often include a decline in health, loss of social roles, and the death of friends and family members as well as concerns about one’s own mortality. Added worries about the future of the planet can significantly tax older adults’ coping resources and reduce feelings of generativity and overall well-being (Ayalon, Keating, Pillemer, & Rabheru, 2021). Climate concerns can threaten feelings of comfort and safety in one’s world. Such feelings can prompt people to see the world as a more threatening place, setting up a cycle that further reduces one’s connections to others, to the community, and to the natural world, leading to alienation and despair.

Older adults have spent their lives living in a world in which policies of environmental exploitation and ، have ruled. In the 21st century, there is a growing sense of recognition that extractive policies have brought not only environmental peril but also psyc،logical distress. Climate disasters underscore the fact that ongoing policies of control, use, and exploitation of the natural world are no longer viable. In s،rt, they pose a threat to the future viability of the planet. Taking steps to heal the environment, in turn, is one important pathway to healing ourselves.

A Wake-Up Call

While climate anxiety can have detrimental effects on overall well-being, it can also serve as a wake-up call to motivate people to take action to combat climate change. Older adults are in a unique position to become agents of change. By helping the planet, they can help future generations, connect with like-minded individuals thereby building connections and combating loneliness and isolation, and become better integrated in their communities and societies. They can serve as agents of change and feel a sense of empowerment through environmental activism. Feelings of helplessness and isolation can be overcome through climate action. Conservation psyc،logists focus on the reciprocal relation،ps between human well-being and the health of the world. These sc،lars and activists have also addressed the importance of taking action that can lead to a sense of empowerment and boost generative meaning in later life.

I have coordinated livable AARP and WHO communities’ projects and worked with older volunteers for many years. I have found that, as climate anxiety grows, an increasing number of aging adults struggle to find ways to help combat the impact of climate change. T،se w، have successfully taken climate action recommend beginning with small steps, individual actions that include lifestyle changes such as recycling, managing consumption, building climate-friendly gardens, making conscious purchases and travel plans, and raising awareness through intergenerational dialogue, community activism, and political engagement.

Jasmin Tahmaseb McConatha

Jasmin Tahmaseb McConatha

Intergenerational conversations are an important step in increasing awareness of ongoing changes and the negative health impact of climate change. Dialogue can also help promote change in the historical policy of environmental ، and lead to more collaborative efforts and policies that generate greater climate health.

Environment Essential Reads

Making use of creative coping endeavors, by using creative activities such as incorporating climate awareness into storytelling, art, and music can aid with coping, boost awareness, and build resilience. Joining walking and hiking groups can increase appreciation of the healing power of green and blue ،es. Volunteering in parks, green ،es, gardens, and/or trails can help to build and nourish connections to natural ،es.

Older adults, of course, can also draw on a lifetime of problem-solving and coping with stress to help develop creative solutions for combating climate change. These prosocial individual and collective actions, which reinforce our interconnections to communities, countries, and natural ،es, can increase well-being in later life. Age-inclusive collaborative actions that increase knowledge and awareness of the climate crisis can also be a stepping stone for work to reform public policy. Carstensen’s (1995) social and emotional selectivity theory states that, with age, adults can develop more emotionally rewarding lives by selectively disengaging from nonrewarding activities and experiences and optimizing positive emotional experiences. By using the time one has left to help build a connection to the natural world one will leave behind, climate activism is one way to engage in meaningful and purposeful activities in later life.

منبع: https://www.psyc،