Broaching the topic of climate anxiety in the classroom can feel intimidating, but it is critical to provide space for students to address these emotions productively. Some climate change lessons will invoke some fear or negative feelings about our safety, the well-being of other living things, and the future of our planet. Some emotions are useful to propel us toward change, but if we get stuck in too negative of a mindset, we can lose hope and disengage. To keep our youth invested in solving climate change, we first and foremost have to validate and help them process their climate anxiety.
Students may have a hard time identifying, understanding, and sharing their emotions about climate change. Because of this, I like to be open with my students and model vulnerability by sharing my own experiences with climate anxiety. Also, in every climate change lesson I include space for self-reflection so students can explore and process how they feel. Once students are able to self-reflect on their climate anxiety, I challenge students to share their thoughts and emotions with partners or in small groups. Eventually, I work up to whole-class share-outs and open discussions, but this takes time, especially with older students who may be more reserved.
If there is a particularly heavy lesson, where students are feeling heightened anxiety, I like to include a meditation, breathing exercise, journaling activity, or short walk outside to help students calm their worries. These are all great coping strategies that can help our students with not only climate anxiety but many other causes of distress as well.
Most importantly, we need to encourage students to be honest about their fears and, as teachers, normalize and validate these concerns. But we can’t dwell in negativity. I like to model my own positive thinking about climate change solutions that combat my climate anxiety and spotlight the hope I have for the future. Encourage students to learn about climate change solutions that give them hope and to use some of their anxious energy towards helping fight climate change by getting involved. Whether it’s eating more plant-based, thrifting clothes, or joining a climate change advocacy group, students can make simple switches to help the planet and foster more hopeful feelings about our future. Hope is the best antidote we have for climate anxiety!
About the Author: Effie Albitz
Effie has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in teaching instruction. She formerly taught 8th grade Earth science in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She now lives in Athens, Greece where she teaches English and creates content for SubjectToClimate.