"Twelve years left to save the planet" read one recent headline; "1 million species on the brink of extinction" read another. Little wonder that eco-anxiety - "a chronic fear of environmental doom" - is attracting growing attention, particularly as a problem among younger generations.

Although not yet listed in the mental health manual DSM-5, a number of professional organisations such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Wellcome Trust have written about it.

The key is to help your child,if they see you taking action they'll feel less helpless and pessimistic. Photo / Getty Images
The key is to help your child,if they see you taking action they'll feel less helpless and pessimistic. Photo / Getty Images

In a 2017 report, the APA calls for an increased focus on the mental health consequences of climate change.

READ MORE: Kyle MacDonald: Climate change march: Should kids be allowed to wag?

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Symptoms of eco-anxiety include anxiety, depressed mood, insomnia, and feelings of loss, fear and helplessness. Symptoms in children may also include separation anxiety and somatisation - signs suggestive of physical illness but without a physical explanation, for example, stomach aches, headaches and extreme fatigue.

The Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has told how learning about climate change contributed to the crippling depression she has suffered with.

"I overthink," said Thunberg, 16. "In school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on. I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the film, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn't do that. Those pictures were stuck in my head."

With more and more articles and programmes suggesting we are at "tipping point" and that the situation is now "out of control", concern over the state of the planet is unavoidable - and bans on cotton buds, as announced last week, can seem like a drop in the ocean.

A way to tackle eco-anxiety is to get outside in natural light for at least 20 minutes every day and focus on good things. Photo / Getty Images
A way to tackle eco-anxiety is to get outside in natural light for at least 20 minutes every day and focus on good things. Photo / Getty Images

But if you or your children are suffering from eco-anxiety, what can you do to alleviate the distress that's stopping you from carrying out your normal activities and making whatever positive difference you can?

Start by targeting symptoms. Limit caffeine and alcohol and stop smoking; go to bed and get up at regular times whenever possible. Turn off all screens and avoid reading material about climate change during the last two hours before bedtime.

Get outside in natural light for at least 20 minutes every day, preferably to take a walk during which you invoke a mindful attitude, appreciating the good things we have now.

Spend time regularly with people who matter most to you. If symptoms continue to overwhelm, see your GP and ask for some CBT or better yet, mindfulness-based CBT.

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But don't stop there. As Elise Amiel at the University of St. Thomas writes, acknowledging distress is important, but we must also change our behaviours and priorities and encourage others to do so, to reawaken a sense of control.

This last step is also key to helping your children. If they see you taking action personally - cycling or walking instead of driving, reusing and recycling - as well as calling for organisations to become more environmentally friendly, they'll feel less helpless and pessimistic.

And most important, take time to listen carefully to their environmental concerns.

Help them reframe their fears so they talk about what they can do rather than what they feel they must now limit or avoid, and help them take action in ways they believe are important.

After all, their concerns are paramount - the future is theirs more than ours.