Teachers, how can you address your students' eco-anxiety?

“Teacher, will Scotland end up underwater?" As educators, we often encounter challenging questions from our students, particularly those expressing their concerns about the planet's future. The surge of alarming climate change headlines in the media has heightened this issue, leading to an increase in eco-anxiety among the youth.

To address these feelings of fear, confusion, or anger, it might be beneficial to engage with the topic of climate change, especially focusing on the emotional responses it evokes. The OCE team suggests practical approaches and thoughtful ways to discuss the emotional aspects of climate change with your students, aiming to foster a supportive and understanding environment.

Understanding Eco-Anxiety

Non répertoriée comme maladie psychologique, l’éco-anxiété est, selon certains médecins ou psychologues, une réaction naturelle - et saine - des personnes conscientes des changements climatiques en cours et à venir.

Not classified as a psychological illness, eco-anxiety is considered by some doctors and psychologists to be a natural—and healthy—reaction of individuals aware of ongoing and future climate changes.

It triggers strong negative emotions such as sadness, anger, and despair, and can be experienced as a constant source of psychological stress. Eco-anxiety, in its most distressing form, can affect concentration or lead to sleep disorders. In 2021, researchers surveyed 10,000 young people aged 16 to 25 from around the world about their feelings towards climate change. In France, more than half of the youth reported being 'very' or 'extremely worried' about climate change. These alarming figures highlight the importance of addressing this issue deeply and sensitively with students.

Adaptation Strategies: Insights from Research

Research conducted by Maria Ojala has identified three adaptation strategies among young people:

  • Distancing from the problem through minimization or even denial.
  • Engaging in action by contributing to adaptation projects, changing lifestyles, and increasing pro-environmental commitments and behaviors.
  • Reframing the situation by positively reclaiming the future, linking it to hopeful and positive thoughts, and placing significant trust in expert figures such as scientists or teachers.

It is crucial to consider these different strategies to guide your students in their understanding of and response to climate challenges. How can this be achieved?

Transforming Anxiety into Action

  • Addressing climate change openly: By openly and honestly discussing climate change in the classroom, you allow your students to fully understand the stakes and consequences of this phenomenon. Confronting them with reality prepares them to take meaningful actions.  
  • Understanding emotions: Initially, it is beneficial for you to reflect on how you feel about the climate and find ways to overcome your own eco-anxiety, perhaps through your teaching mission.  
  • Listening to student feelings: Climate change can deeply affect your students to varying degrees. It's important to spend time listening to young people's thoughts on the subject, recognizing their feelings (which may differ from those of adults) and not assuming their anxiety levels.  
  • Encouraging action and reinventing the future: By encouraging your students to engage in concrete and innovative actions, you help them transform their anxiety into a positive drive. Involving them in projects aimed at building a sustainable future increases their confidence and optimism about their ability to effect real change.  
  • Promoting collective action: Inviting your students to participate in collective actions fosters a sense of belonging and shared responsibility. Working together towards a common goal boosts their confidence in their ability to have a positive impact on the world around them.  
  • Spending time in nature: There are significant well-being benefits to spending time outdoors, surrounded by living things. 

Our Recommendations

Despite the phenomenon of eco-anxiety, it remains crucial for teachers to address climate change. By helping students understand the mechanisms of climate change and envision paths for collective action, teachers are well-positioned to assist students in facing this challenge. However, addressing emotions requires a long-term approach, ideally involving four distinct types of activities, one of which is dedicated to emotions.

Before conducting an activity focused on the emotions associated with climate change, we recommend organizing a session on the reality of climate change or on the connection between climate change and human activity.

1. Initial session on climate change

Before conducting an activity focused on the emotions associated with climate change, we recommend organizing a session on the reality of climate change or on the connection between climate change and human activity.

3 examples of an initial session

  • Lesson A1 - Evidence of climate change on land- Age : 9-15 years - Duration : 1h30  
  • Lesson A3 - The greenhouse effect and human activities- Age : 9-15 years - Duration : 1h  
  • Lesson D1 - Our carbon footprint - Age : 9-15 years - Duration: 1h
carbon footprint

2. Session on emotions

It is important that, as adults and educators, you take the time to acknowledge all types of feelings your students may have and remind them that all these emotions are legitimate. It is also possible for you to share your own emotions and fears with your students.

Listening to students can also be an opportunity to help them put the risks associated with climate change into perspective: no, the rising sea levels will not make Scotland disappear underwater in 5 years!

Furthermore, tell them that it is important to think about solutions to help adapt to or counteract climate change. Depending on your time, you can either proceed to the next session immediately or simply announce its scheduling for another day, but it is very important to explicitly link these two sessions together.

  • Lesson D2 - How do you feel about climate change? Working on emotions - Age : 9-15 years Duration : from 55min to 1h50

3. Brainstorming session on solutions

After reminding students of the various effects of climate change on ecosystems and human societies, ask them to think about actions that they can implement themselves, at their own scale, or at the scale of their family or a community (school, village, etc.). The different actions will be debated among the students and categorized according to various criteria (mitigation/adaptation, collective/individual, etc.). They must then choose one or more actions that they will implement.

  • Lesson D4 - Adaptation and mitigation measures worldwide - Age : 9-12 years - Duration : 1h


4. Project Implementation

Following the brainstorming session you organized, and depending on the local context, time constraints, and available resources, various types of projects can be considered. These projects engage students actively, an important aspect as previously discussed. Projects may focus on adaptation, mitigation, raising awareness, or research. They can encompass a wide range of activities, and the examples provided here are just a starting point. Other activities may be more suitable for your specific context.

Some examples

OASIS project


Although educating about climate change is not without its discomforts, it is important to note that this is also true for other classroom subjects such as the study of world wars, genocides, or colonialism. These topics are crucial, and we cannot afford to ignore them. The same is true for the study of climate change. We hope to have shown that eco-anxiety should not be seen as a barrier but rather as a catalyst, and that you, as educators, have a key role to play in addressing it.

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Publication date
Office for Climate Education OCE