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Resources for working with climate emotions
A collaboration between Gen Dread and The All We Can Save Project
The IPCC Sixth Assessment report that was published on Monday has rocked a lot of souls, including many who weren’t previously all that shook about our warming planet. The process of realizing the dire track of climate catastrophe we are on understandably rouses painful and even despairing emotions. This is ultimately a good thing because we all need to feel about this crisis and not only think about it, if we are going to burst through our defenses that otherwise thwart action.
Intense climate feelings exist alongside other crucial facts, such as that there’s so much meaningful work to do, harm to prevent, and differences we’ve yet to make that will have enormous impact on humanity’s future and that of our nonhuman kin. Sometimes though, we need help in order to face the emotions that climate trauma can unleash, as well as guidance on how to harness them for purpose driven change.
Gen Dread recently teamed up with the wonderful All We Can Save Project to create a set of curated resources for navigating the emotional terrain of climate truth. We’re delighted to share it with you here today, and sincerely hope it helps build self-understanding, personal/community resilience, and ultimately, justice-oriented climate action.
Photo by Alessio Soggetti on Unsplash
Resources for working with climate emotions | a collaboration with The All We Can Save Project
As Susi Moser writes in All We Can Save, “Burnt-out people aren’t equipped to serve a burning planet … [so] the well-being of our hearts and souls must be reestablished to their rightful place as relevant, essential.”
The climate crisis has many people feeling on the edge. How can we cope, care, and heal? What do our emotions have to teach us?
Can climate work and leadership grow from a more rooted, powerful place?
Many of the resources listed here will work for a variety of financial needs and time allocations, including free, low-cost, and short-term options.
If you find yourself feeling so depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by the climate crisis that you’re struggling to stay afloat or stay in the work, it might be a great time to call a climate-aware therapist. In recent years, a conscious group of psychotherapists, social workers, and psychiatrists have come together to help people live more comfortably with their climate-awareness through diverse methods and practices.
These therapists are special in the sense that they will never pathologize one’s eco-distress or dismiss it as catastrophic thinking, whereas other therapists sometimes do (which ends up leaving people feeling misunderstood, alienated, and many times worse). They understand this distress to be a natural and reasonable reaction to what is happening — a sign of one’s connection to and care for the world — at the same time that they provide perspectives, tools, and techniques for coping with it.
Some starting places to find climate-aware mental health professionals:
Climate Psychology Alliance United Kingdom
Climate Psychology Alliance North America
Time commitment: at your desired pace.
“Emotional methodologies” help people connect with and process difficult climate feelings, such as anxiety, grief, and dread, in ways that build courage, acceptance, and inner resilience. Unlike much climate-aware therapy, emotional methodologies are practices that are designed to be done in groups, and are not necessarily facilitated by a mental health professional.
In each their own way, they move people past denial and emotional paralysis towards deeper understanding of their own felt responses, as well as meaningful external actions they can take. (For more on emotional methodologies, see Jo Hamilton’s 2020 PhD thesis.)
Here are a couple of our favourite emotional methodologies:
The Work That Reconnects
TWTR is practiced around the world as a way to cultivate inner resilience, healing, and connection in collectively dark times that demand empowered action. It is based in the teachings of Joanna Macy, a renowned activist and author whose life has been dedicated to helping people tap into the interconnectedness of all living things using a mixture of modern systems theory, Indigenous, and Buddhist philosophies.
TWTR moves participants through a four-stage journey that brings them into close contact with climate emotions for personal transformation:
Coming from Gratitude
Honoring our Pain for the World
Seeing with New/Ancient Eyes
Find workshops, retreats, and study groups: workthatreconnects.org
The Evolving Edge is a branch of TWTR that is focused on decolonizing the practices of TWTR to better meet the needs of communities of colour.
Read more about The Evolving Edge’s ideas and practices: workthatreconnects.org/evolving-edge
Time commitment: different facilitators organize retreats, programs, and experiences of various durations.
Good Grief Network
GGN is an innovative peer support network for processing and integrating the uncertainty and grief that the climate and wider eco-crisis can awaken in people. Based on Alcoholics Anonymous, this group format moves participants through a 10-step program in which key topics are processed in a supportive setting, such as: “accept the uncertainty of the predicament,” “practice being with uncertainty,” and “honor my mortality and the mortality of all.”
Volunteers can request facilitation packages and run their own GGN 10-step programs, though they are also regularly facilitated online via a donation-based format that anyone is welcome to sign up for.
Learn more or join a GGN 10-step group: www.goodgriefnetwork.org
Time commitment: meeting with a group over ten weeks.
To practice somatics (from the Greek soma for “body”) is to listen to the sensations that come in through the body as a foundational language. It is a way of working with the connection of the mind and body to become aware of deeply rooted conscious and unconscious patterns, survival strategies, and modes of existence that we learn from traumatic situations.
By becoming aware of these patterns embedded in our neurobiology, we can uproot and reorganize them towards justice-oriented change and liberation.
Generative Somatics, an organization that works in the service of climate and social justice, offers several kinds of trauma-informed somatic programs that engage our emotions, sensations, and physiology for individual, collective, and societal transformation. Specific programs for BIPOC are available.
As GS defines it, transformation means “the ability to take new actions that are aligned with our visions and our values even under the same old pressures.”
Learn more or find programs: generativesomatics.org
Time commitment: varied.
Too often, we sit in silence with our difficult eco-emotions, which creates a sense of loneliness and powerlessness. Authentic conversations about how we’re feeling — in a space where those feelings are welcomed — can dramatically change that. Talking with others who give us permission to share openly can be comforting, empowering, and unleash creativity all at the same time.
Sometimes you just need to express your climate feelings with other people who get it, and not much more is required. Activist and psychologist Margaret Klein Salamon created Climate Awakening as a series of ongoing sharing and listening sessions that anyone can drop into virtually.
Learn more or join a virtual listening session: climateawakening.org
Time commitment: as often or as little as you want to drop in.
Climate cafes are human-centric, emotions-friendly meetings where people can safely express what they’re sensing about what the climate crisis means—not in some far-out future way, but for their own lives and loved ones. They are a relational and permission-giving space that help people work through their fears and frustrations.
Search online for “your city + climate cafe” to find a climate cafe near you, or sign up for an ongoing virtual series run by the Climate Psychology Alliance here.
Time commitment: as often or as little as you want to drop in.
Drawing attention to the pressure that the climate crisis puts on reproductive decisions, and the injustice this causes for people of childbearing age today, Conceivable Future hosts “house parties” where people can express their concerns and desires about how to have kids, or not, in these times.
The founders adamantly support personal choice and do not endorse any way as the “right” way to navigate reproductive decisions in the climate crisis, whether that might mean having multiple children, adopting, or refusing to reproduce.
Time commitment: a single attendance, a single testimonial, or ongoing engagement with the network.
Climate-specific mindfulness retreats
Climate and social justice activists are no strangers to feelings of overwhelm, depression, and burnout. While the ills of the world that we work to heal often feel like a relentless uphill battle that we can withstand for a while, eventually that climb becomes too much to bear.
Mindfulness and mindful meditation have been proven to be effective ways of finding restoration by grounding oneself in the present moment. They tap into truths about the non-dualistic joy and suffering that are part of existence at all times, in ways that are soulfully nourishing.
Here we share two climate-focused options. But mindfulness retreats that are not climate-specific, or other retreats in a given faith tradition, are also beneficial in their ability to cultivate rest, presencing, and restoration.
Plum Village, a Zen Buddhist retreat center in France that is rooted in the teachings of activist and global spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh, sometimes offers online mindfulness retreats for activists and climate activists. Recommended for moments of high emotional drama, despair, burnout, compassion fatigue, and general exhaustion.
Learn more or find an upcoming retreat: plumvillage.org/retreats
Or, use their app from the comfort of your own home for free.
Time commitment: varies depending on retreat.
Boundless in Motion
The climate crisis disproportionately burdens communities of colour and layers more stress on top of existing oppression. This in turn demands culturally sensitive support.
Zen Buddhist priest and senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, Dr. Kritee Kanko hosts multi-day ecodharma retreats for people of colour, as well as BIPOC grief circles.
Sign up to Boundless in Motion’s contact form to be alerted of upcoming events: boundlessinmotion.org/contact-us
Time commitment: varies depending on retreat or grief circle session.
Online resource hubs
Another very helpful way to cope with climate emotions is to learn more about how they’re showing up in people’s lives. By reading or listening to stories of how others are integrating these tough feelings into their lived experiences and harnessing them for deeper meaning and action, we come to feel less alone and often, inspired and energized. Keeping up to date on the latest research about the psychological impacts of climate can also be useful and encouraging. Here are two rich storehouses of resources.
This site serves as a welcoming and calming online realm, aimed at people who feel alone in their climate fears. It uses the power of stories to relieve that sense of isolation.
Read others’ stories, share your own, and access reflection guides and resources: www.ecoanxious.ca
I don’t need to tell you about this one, you’re already here :)
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Whatever path you choose to engage with climate emotions — one of the above or something else entirely — remember that feeling our feelings is part of climate work. To have our eyes wide open to both destruction and possibility takes courage. May we be fueled by ferocious love for all we can save.
Gen Dread and The All We Can Save Project
Lastly, I want to quickly plug a new book by climate-aware therapist Leslie Davenport called All the Feelings Under the Sun. Davenport, who has shared her strategies for coping with difficult climate feelings before on Gen Dread, wrote this book for a young audience. Part workbook, part emotional guide, All the Feelings Under the Sun dishes out age-appropriate climate content for children that takes their psychological wellbeing into account the entire way through. Beautiful illustrations as well. If a young person in your life is looking for a place to process their climate feelings, this could be the book for them. Published by the American Psychological Association.