Humber speaker offers hope in dealing with climate anxiety

Jan 23, 2024 | Campus News, Headlines, News

Dr. Britt Wray wants people to know feeling anxious about climate change is OK.

The director of Stanford’s Center for Inter-Religious Community, Learning and Experiences says climate change affects more than just the planet we live on.

During her Humber President’s Lecture series on Tuesday, she argued it can have consequences on the mind as well.

At one point in the lecture, she asked attendees “Have you ever worried about the climate crisis? Have you ever lost sleep over it, perhaps?”

In response, over half of the audience had raised their hands.

Wray said that’s a typical response, adding that we need a healthy way to deal with those feelings.

“People’s ability to take on the structural changes, write the policies, work at the community levels to address and stop the climate crisis gets hampered and pulled back because of how battered we feel essentially determines how well we can build a new world,” Wray said.

Man holding a microphone, sitting on a chair in front of other people sitting behind him

An audience member asks Britt Wray a question during the questioning period after the seminar. Photo credit: David Madureira

Wray has a PhD in psychiatry and behavioural sciences and said too much focus on the negative is detrimental.

She gave examples of the good people have been doing to improve their mental health amid the climate crisis.

“It’s called task shifting, so that essentially someone who’s a grandmother to the community are all of a sudden able to sit on a bench with people who have clinical depression and talk to them … clinical trials show that at the end of their six sessions that person is more likely to recover from their depression then had they gone to a primary care support line.”

Aaron Saad, a professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences attended the event, said “It’s not hopeless but hope isn’t easy, it’s about being tenacious while still holding onto that hope.

After the presentation, Wray spoke about the importance of the basic things when it comes to mental health.

“You’ve got to exercise, and you’ve gotta sleep, and you’ve gotta take breaks, and you’ve gotta eat well and do things that help regulate your nervous system … being really mindful of your attention and where you’re putting it is huge.”

Wray wants the message of “Community Saves” to be the biggest takeaway people have from her talk, and to focus on community efforts to improve mental health.