Photo overlooking an expanse of ocean at sunset.

Climate change has led to more frequent and extreme weather events, including floods, storms, droughts and wildfires. As we continue to live through and witness these events, many people are more likely to be exposed to traumatic incidents, such as destruction, loss of communities, serious injury or death. As a result, many people may start to experience higher levels of distress and anxiety.

Here are some tips you can use to help your student cope with climate anxiety.

What is climate anxiety?

Climate anxiety, also referred to as eco-anxiety, refers to distressing feelings related to the impacts of climate change. This type of distress is often rooted in feelings of uncertainty, lack of control and concerns over well-being or safety. Unlike other stressors, which are often personal, climate change can be more universal, chronic and often intangible. Because of this, climate anxiety has the potential to impact a large number of people. In fact, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association, more than two-thirds of Americans experience some form of climate anxiety.

How can climate change impact mental health?

Climate change can elicit a variety of emotions including grief, anger, shame, loss, guilt, hopelessness and fatigue, among others. These feelings can stem from a number of factors including direct impacts (e.g. loss of housing or livelihood), vicarious experiences around the globe or distress related to future or existential threats.

Learning how to cope with climate anxiety can help us:

  • Sit with our feelings and the issues facing us
  • Avoid becoming overwhelmed by our feelings
  • Avoid burnout or fatigue
  • Continue to function and find joy in our everyday lives
  • Stay engaged in climate action
  • Instill hope for the future

Here are some tactics that your student can use to develop healthy coping skills around climate change.

1. Focusing on what is in their control

Climate change is a complex issue. That’s why it’s important to remind your student that climate change cannot be solved by any one person, organization or government on their own. While this may feel disheartening, it can provide us with the opportunity to remind our students to focus more on what is within their control rather than what isn’t. 

Here are some examples of things that are within your student’s control:

  • Participating in climate change initiatives
  • Writing or calling legislators to encourage them to take action
  • Building more sustainable habits around energy use, composting, recycling, consumerism, etc.
  • Selecting food options that have less environmental impact (e.g. reducing the amount of meat they consume each week, growing your own vegetables, etc.)
  • Changing the way they commute to campus
  • Engaging family and friends in meaningful conversations about climate change
  • Donating to organizations or causes they care about

No matter how your student chooses to take action, it’s also important to remind them that they play a small part in a larger puzzle. For instance, if they are concerned about water conservation, it may be helpful to remind them that 80% of the Colorado River Basin is used for agriculture. Encourage them to avoid being hard on themselves over the occasional long shower or brushing their teeth with the faucet on. Instead, help them to view their actions as a way for them to practice the habits that we will all need to develop in order to create a more sustainable future.

2. Avoiding overload

Working on too many climate projects or advocating for too many causes can be unwieldy and is more likely to lead to burn out. Encourage your student to narrow their focus, energy and efforts towards projects and issues that mean the most to them. For instance, your student may choose to rally around greenhouse gasses, sustainable agricultural practices or water conservation. Focusing on a select number of issues can help them reduce overall stress, find balance and maintain gusto.

As your student chooses what issues to engage in, it’s also important to remind them to let go of the urge to say yes to everyone and everything. Instead, help them to prioritize activities that they feel are most meaningful for them. This could mean that they choose to participate in a rally or march, but decline to be one of the main organizers for the event. Similarly they may choose to call specific representatives to encourage them to take action on certain bills rather than trying to reach every possible person.

3. Practicing compassion

Remind your student that whenever we approach painful situations or emotions, it’s important to do so with kindness and compassion for themselves and others. For instance, it may not always be feasible to recycle every item that they can. Beating themselves up about it or worrying that they could be doing more can actually fuel more emotional turmoil, which can be particularly unhelpful as they try to move forward. 

Instead, remind your student to take care of their own mental health and encourage them to sit with painful emotions in a non-judgmental way. Helping them to acknowledge and name the specific emotions they’re experiencing can help. Encourage your student to name and clarify what they’re feeling, especially if they’re experiencing a variety of emotions all at once.

It can also be helpful to practice validating their feelings with affirmations like:

  • ‘It’s okay that you feel stressed about climate change.’
  • ‘You can make a difference, and big changes are going to take time.’
  • ‘You can take a break. This issue is important to you, and so is your mental well-being.’

4. Taking a break from climate news

Following climate-driven accounts or scrolling through social and news posts about climate change all the time can impact your student’s mental health. If you notice that they start to feel overwhelmed by news updates or events happening around the world, it may be a good time to encourage them to take a break. If they’re feeling pressured to stay informed, remind them that all of those news stories, updates and information will be there when they return. It’s also important to remind them that even if they step away for a few hours, days or weeks, it won’t change what happens, and they don’t need to be plugged in 24/7.

Encourage your student to take a break by:

  • Engaging in other activities or hobbies they love
  • Catching up with friends or family (without climate change as a topic of conversation)
  • Turning off their news feed or muting accounts for a while
  • Spending time in nature by walking, hiking, bird watching or other outdoor activities
  • Taking a day off to practice self-care
  • Enjoying time with a supportive community

5. Remembering they're not alone

It’s easy to get caught up in all of the ‘bad’ news surrounding climate change, but it’s also important to remind your student that there are a lot of people working to solve this issue and positive change can and will happen. Finding a community of people who understand how your student feels and what they’re passionate about can help them feel more supported, connected and encouraged to continue to take action. Connecting with others can also help your student cultivate a sense of hope for the future. Having hope and seeing that others believe change can happen is necessary to carry on the work that needs to be done. That’s why it’s important to encourage your student to connect with other students, friends or organizations where they feel supported.

6. Talking to someone

Climate anxiety is a very real experience, and it’s not something your student has to go through alone. If you notice that their feelings are starting to affect their life or ability to cope day-to-day, encourage them to talk to someone. Reaching out to a friend, family member or counselor can help them work through their feelings and practice coping skills.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS)

CAPS is the primary mental health resource on campus for undergraduate and graduate students. They offer brief individual therapy, workshops, drop-in consultations and more. 

Environmental Center

The Environmental Center helps students develop knowledge, leadership skills and connections with peers and experts to make a positive impact at CU and beyond. Check out their website for ways to get involved in environmental and climate justice projects.


All students can attend mental health and psychiatry appointments for free through AcademicLiveCare in order to address a variety of issues including anxiety related to climate change.

Good Grief Network

The Good Grief Network is a non-profit organization that runs peer-to-peer support groups that help bring people together to recognize, feel, and process their heavy emotions, so that these emotions can be transformed into meaningful action.

Britt Wray: Climate Change TedTalk

In this short TedTalk, researcher Britt Wray explores how climate change is impacting our well-being (mental, social and spiritual) and offers a starting point for what we can do about it.