The dire warning issued this week by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the consequences of unchecked climate change landed amid a summer where wildfires and heat waves have been at the forefront of the news cycle. 

But while climate change is manifesting in more extreme weather events, it's also giving rise to a burgeoning field of clinical research: eco-grief and ecological anxiety. 

Add in COVID-19 and it's no wonder that people are feeling overwhelmed, says registered counselling therapist Nancy Blair.

"I always say with ecological anxiety that it's fear for the future," Blair told CBC's Information Morning.

"If you see people that are afraid of what's going to happen … because they don't know what's going to happen, it could be other anxiety, but it's probably a piece of ecological anxiety."

Words like "code red" and "irreversible" only exacerbate the feeling, she said.

"Eco-grief is specifically related to the grief of what's happening to the planet, what's happening to the world and, as a consequence, what's happening to us, our families, our friends, our neighbours."

Eco-grief is a normal feeling, therapist says 

While the term ecological grief has been recognized among scientists studying climate changes for more than a decade, it's only more recently begun to be used by the general public. 

That means people can't necessarily pinpoint the cause of their anxiety, Blair said. But she said that not only is it normal to feel this type of grief, but more people are feeling it.

Nancy Blair is a registered counsellor in Halifax. (Nancy Blair Counselling)

She's part of the Climate Psychologist Alliance, an organization made up of mental health practitioners in North America and the U.K. dedicated to research in the area. 

Blair said that taking steps to mitigate climate change can also lessen some of those feelings of anxiety, though it may not be the right path for everyone.  

Coping strategies include deep-breathing techniques, exercise, good nutrition — similar building blocks to overall health and well-being.

"Part of what I want to do is ... is to normalize it, make it normal that people are going through this," she said. "It's not that you have it, it's how you deal with it."

Blair hosts support groups for people navigating eco-grief, through the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

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