‘Antarctica sea ice reaches alarming low for third year in a row’ 

‘Public transport workers join climate activists for week of strikes across Germany’

‘Cholera: An overlooked outcome of climate change’

The headlines keep coming. And with them, inevitably, comes a spike in our climate anxiety. But when does normal concern tip towards thinking which can negatively impact our mental health, and how do we stop this from happening? And can eco-anxiety be framed as a positive force which brings people together and drives action?

We know that lawyers are under immense stress at work, with evidence suggesting legal professionals are at a higher risk of burnout than the general population. According to research carried out by LawCare, a mental health charity in the sector, over 60 per cent of lawyers reported suffering from anxiety ‘often, very often, or all of the time’ over the preceding 12 months. Despite workplace intervention, the problem is not getting better. The charity reported a 24 per cent increase in contacts in 2023.

So what about lawyers who are working on the front line of sustainability?

Climate anxiety is defined as how we respond psychologically to the climate crisis. Our responses may go beyond anxiety to include grief, anger, overwhelm, betrayal and guilt. It is not a mental health condition in its own right, in fact it could be argued it’s a normal response to an existential crisis. However, an excess of climate anxiety can lead to a range of secondary problems related to mental health, such as panic, insomnia or depression.

It’s an issue impacting a large, and growing, proportion of the population. Youth non-profit organisation Force of Nature found that more than 70 per cent of young people feel hopeless in the face of the climate crisis and as many as 56 per cent believe humanity is doomed. At the same time, only 26 per cent feel that they know how to contribute to solving the problem.

Research carried out by York University showed young people are more likely to feel anger than fear about the climate crisis. But Rowenna Davis, director of the Global Future think tank, says that can be positive: “Fear can make you risk-averse and sometimes it can make you go inwards, but anger is much closer to hope, it’s a motivating force, it forces you to confront, it’s more active.”

Meanwhile, work done by Yale University in the US shows that collective action can form a buffer against climate anxiety. Clinical psychologist Sarah Lowe says her work in this area suggests that engaging in collective action has a multitude of benefits, including social connectedness with people who share similar goals and values.

“We know from a large body of literature that social support is one of the strongest predictors of mental well-being” Sarah said. “We also thought that individuals who engaged in collective action – particularly if they saw those actions as having an impact – could have a stronger sense of self-efficacy and hope for the future. On the other hand, there’s some research that people who engage in activism can be at risk for burnout.”

Most research in this area points to one main principle: the best way to address climate anxiety is to take action. But it’s important to maintain a level of self-care while doing so. Dr Emma Lawrence, mental health innovations fellow at Imperial College London, said: “As individuals and communities, we can work towards a more positive vision of the future. There is a way to take action and create that positive future yourself. But we need to take care of ourselves in the process.”

Some thoughts from the experts:

  • Take action – but be kind to yourself

It’s important to avoid burnout. If your job involves these issues allow yourself to step away and switch off in the evenings and at the weekends.

  • Acknowledge the truth of the situation, while knowing you are having a positive input

In the face of the news about climate change, it’s understandable to feel anxious. But don’t get stuck in these feelings.

  • Forge connections and support others who are taking action

Youth climate activists reported feeling positively connected to a global community.

  • Do not hold yourself overly accountable

No one person should feel they have to carry the burden of the climate crisis on their shoulders. The real difference will be made by systemic change, do what you can to support that.

  • Create hope

The creation of hope can be an active process, not a passive thing you have to wait for. If you are taking action you are part of the solution.

  • Notice and celebrate the actions you are taking towards protecting the planet, however large or small

Everything counts.

  • Spend time in nature

This can be balancing and replenishing, helping you to work from the positive. This can help counter feelings of overwhelm.

  • Journal

Record how you are feeling and how you are responding to those feelings. This will give you more insight into knowing when you need to step away and give yourself space.

“We don’t want people to feel stuck in their sadness about the climate crisis,” says Emma. “What can be helpful is when people hold their anger and sadness about wider inaction, and about the losses we face, but alongside this hold that there is hope and a reason to take action.”

The LSA is here to support you in taking action. If you are facing a challenge at work in tackling the climate crisis, we can help. Contact us and we will explore solutions throughout our network. And we would like to celebrate your successes! Email [email protected], we would love to hear from you.



Blog written by Rachel Millichip, Millichip Media.