Climate Change: How It’s Dictating Mental Health Across the Globe

Mariya Javed-Payne, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, International Brainspotting Trainer, somatic psychotherapist, and owner of Awaken Consulting Services, noticed climate change taking a toll on her clients’ mental health when she entered clinical practice in 2010. 

“The mental anxiety about climate change seemed almost invisible at first,” recalls Javed-Payne. “However, since COVID, I see increasing numbers of clients sharing their existential questions and fears about the planet’s future.”

Climate change is impacting mental health around the globe

For those who are conscious and aware, climate change is a pressing and even overwhelming concern. Anxiety about the planet’s future can lead to a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, and fear.

“We are seeing the consequences of late-stage capitalism all around us — mass ecocide, environmental damage, an increasing wealth gap, inequalities, and a polarized economy,” Payne explains. “We are collectively becoming more aware of how our actions impact our future and seeing ourselves as a part of the nature we are destroying.”

Javed-Payne believes people who are less aware or less able to express their concerns still feel the effects of this latent stress. Over time, it can manifest as a contributor to depression, anxiety, and perhaps a sense of emptiness or sorrow.

“Our anxiety is often shrouded in what’s called dissociation,” remarks Javed-Payne. “This is a process our brain and body use to block overwhelming thoughts, emotions, and experiences to protect us when we don’t have the resources to handle them. This happens especially when we feel helpless. Today, many are waking up to the power of our impact on the planet and don’t know how to process their emerging feelings about it.”

Somatic psychotherapy treats people struggling with the impact of climate change

Javed-Payne encourages clients to talk through their feelings about climate change and works with them to process their grief and fear. Then, she explores ways to help clients make sense of their existence in a way that holds a healthy meaning for them. 

“We bring something that seems hidden and ambiguous into the light,” says Payne. “It is vital to tune into the wisdom of our bodies, which are connected to the Earth, and listen.”

When people feel overwhelmed with emotions but cannot find words to express them, somatic psychotherapy holds the key to a deeper level of healing and understanding. This therapeutic approach integrates the mind and body, recognizing the importance of physical sensations, movements, and gestures in the healing process.

The mind-body connection lies at the core of somatic psychotherapy. This approach acknowledges that the body carries imprints of past memories and experiences.

Traumatic experiences stored in the brain can manifest as physical pain, illness, or patterns of behavior. By working with the body and mind together, somatic psychotherapy aims to access and release these stored experiences, leading to increased self-awareness and healing.

“Somatic psychotherapy is all about connecting to the body as well as the mind,” says Payne. “When a person’s mind can’t comprehend the magnitude of a traumatic issue, sometimes their body can help them work through it. We are magically powerful creatures wired for creativity, healing, and problem-solving. When we feel connected to our bodies and can learn to settle in them, it’s much easier to access this healing power.”

How Brainspotting therapy enables clients to deal with the impact of climate change on mental health

Brainspotting is a revolutionary form of therapy that targets trauma and other emotional conditions through accessing the limbic system and subcortical brain. By identifying specific eye positions, called brainspots, therapists help clients access and work through unresolved trauma and negative emotions.

During a Brainspotting session, practitioners guide clients to focus on a specific spot, using eye positions corresponding to the activation of deep emotional neural networks to assist clients in exploring the physical and emotional sensations that arise as they process their trauma. This allows for the release of buried emotions and the integration of past experiences in a healthy and transformative way. 

Brainspotting attempts to bypass the defenses of people’s thinking brain to access trauma stored in the deep parts of their subcortical brain. 

“This type of therapy promotes coherence in people’s nervous system,” Javed-Payne observes. “Even if a client is processing something difficult, they typically feel a sense of relief or shift in perspective rather quickly. This therapy’s power lies in accessing the self-healing capabilities of our nervous system and body to ground us so we can access the resilience that lives within us. We rewire how we hold negative experiences to have less charge and integrate them into a healthy mental framework.”

Confronting climate change and its toll on mental health

Javed-Payne encourages people to reach out to one another as they grapple with the impact of climate change. She reminds clients that the climate events around them are experiences they share with every other human and life form on the planet.

“Despite our diverse perspectives, our intimate connection to the Earth and nature impacts all of us,” Javed-Payne concludes. “Pay attention to how larger societal issues impact your mental and physical health. Feeling scared, helpless, worried, and numb is a natural reaction to climate change. Give space to your feelings and explore them. A communal healing space such as therapy can help you process your innermost existential concerns, begin the  healing process, and discover what the Earth asks of you.”

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