Climate anxiety disproportionately burdens moms: Here’s why

climate anxiety- mom and child holding hands on the beach
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Recent research indicates that women tend to express more concern about climate change than men.  The underlying reasons for this disparity are not yet known. Some theorize that in their maternal roles, women may instinctively bear the emotional weight for themselves and their children, interconnected by an emotional bond. Moms understand when one child suffers, the entire family is impacted. This may potentially account for some of the difference. Many women are also obliged to carry certain emotional burdens for romantic partners—a vestige of societal gender roles that tend to portray women as “caregivers.” However, it is important to note that this is not a universal rule, nor does it mean fathers or partners don’t feel the impact of what is happening to our world.  Every family’s dynamics and experiences are unique.

Nevertheless, and despite increasing climate anxiety, women are expected to continue mothering and caregiving, requiring them to navigate obvious risks associated with rising temperatures, shifting landscapes and extreme weather events. Our evolving reality is becoming increasingly challenging to put aside in favor of daily distractions. As integral parts of the biosphere, we viscerally sense and feel these environmental shifts through the body no matter where we fall on the map.

Grappling with systemic issues like climate change can understandably feel overwhelming and disempowering at times. Climate anxiety in women can manifest in any number of ways that go beyond obsessing over catastrophic weather events or dystopian futures for our children. A common symptom of climate anxiety includes excessive thoughts about individual, everyday consumer actions. For example, in their capacities as mothers or caregivers, many women are expected to make countless consumer decisions. In doing so, often for our entire households, the onus falls on us to make responsible choices on everything from produce and diapers to takeout containers and transportation.

Anxiety can be compounded when so-called sustainable solutions fail to align the realities of parenting or managing a household. Cloth diapers are often cited as a less wasteful and more environmentally friendly option.However, they are notoriously inconvenient, and the water consumption required to wash them can exacerbate concerns about water shortages. Efforts to make responsible recycling decisions can be equally disheartening when one realizes that many plastics are not actually recyclable, while others will make it into our bloodstream whether we use them or not. Furthermore, focusing on individual actions is unfairly burdensome to the everyday consumer, particularly when dealing with an issue as deeply systemic as climate change.

Feeling isolated within peer groups is a common concern for many climate advocates but may be especially pronounced for women given the unpopularity of the topic in “mom circles.” Let’s face it: we’d rather not talk about it, especially when we’re busy working, packing lunches, carpooling to dance and soccer and organizing meals. In relationships, where one partner does not share the same level of concern, the burden of caring about planetary health can feel emotionally taxing. Failing to validate a family member’s climate fears can leave the concerned party feeling alienated. Climate anxiety may be particularly alarming during the postpartum period, though further research is needed to see how the two intersect. It is likely that climate anxiety exacerbates perinatal mood and anxiety disorders during an already challenging time.

Similar to the varied ways grief is processed, people may have different coping styles when it comes to climate-related issues, making it difficult to determine how someone feels about it. Having meaningful conversations about the crisis with close friends and family may help with finding common ground. The best way for women to alleviate climate anxiety is to engage in climate activism for planetary health on their own terms and to find others who share the concern. Spending time in a natural environment can also help. The one thing women should know is that they are not alone. For resources and support related to climate anxiety, visit Climate Psychology Alliance North America.