What to Watch: Renée Lertzman on How to Turn Climate Anxiety Into Action

By Kaitlyn Scanlon, Alliance Intern from Oregon State University ’26

Do you feel paralyzed by climate anxiety? Immobilized by all the harm done to Earth, yearning to do something but wonder about the significance of your own actions? I’ve been there too many times to count. It’s a burdensome tension, one that seeps, almost imperceptibly, into the crevices of your bones and brain until all of a sudden, you’re drowning in just how much you care and just how powerless you feel. Fortunately, psychologist and psychosocial researcher Renée Lertzman offers practical solutions to these feelings in her wise TED Talk on climate anxiety

This is a hard moment to be a human being. We’re waking up,” Lertzman said. She shared crucial concepts that “helped her make sense of this moment for us as humans.” She explained that solutions start “with actually tuning in to ‘how am I feeling?'” and engaging in genuine compassion with yourself. Once you’re compassionate and “bring curiosity into our own experience,” you’re able “to attune socially.” We can do this “whether it’s in small groups or one-on-one…where we can give each other permission to just be who we are.”

“This allows us to move into the higher level functioning. The executive function, the prefrontal cortex, when we feel that our nervous system can calm down and we are understood by the other,” Lertzman added. She went on to share that good therapists practice attunement — a practice that accepts you exactly where you are with no shame, judgment, or change.

She describes a “window of tolerance” — the amount of stress we can tolerate while staying integrated, not impaired by our stress. When we are more attuned to our window of tolerance, we’re more capable of solving problems, adapting, being flexible and expressing our brilliant selves.

Lertzman explains two responses to stress overload: chaotic and rigid. For chaotic, people sink into depression — they shut down and collapse. For rigid responses, we see denial and anger. These responses cause us to lose our ability to be adaptable, integrated, resilient — a very normal reaction to stress, but not ones that should be taken lightly.

Lastly, she shared that she’s spoken with people all around the planet about their feelings and found the common denominator experience: they’re in a bind. They care so deeply and thus feel incredibly scared for the loss of all that’s around them. The combination of intense care and pervasive indecision make it a double bind – damned if you do, damned if you don’t, as explained by Lertzman. 

What if our climate work was informed by these concepts of window of tolerance, double binds, and attunement? It could look like practically incorporating attunement into every aspect of our work on this issue. You have to be in touch with yourself to bring attunement anywhere else. Lertzman asserted that it takes compassion, curiosity for yourself and others, giving yourself permission to be yourself, allowing your nervous system to calm down when in understanding with other humans, showing up as a real human without all the answers.

We have all the tools to show up as our brilliant, brave selves, the capacity within ourselves to do so. Lertzman ended her inspirational TED Talk with this uniting statement: “We just need to cultivate the conditions together – we need each other to support each other, and to allow ourselves to really meet this…So let’s take a deep breath, have compassion for ourselves and one another in this…time in history, to collectively process these painful truths and difficult realities. Let’s do this together. The world is ready for us…and we can do this.

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