This year the UK hosts the largest summit in its history: the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow.
This is a flashpoint – reducing global temperatures is the existential challenge of our generation. And, as news channels and social media flood with burning landscapes and flooded towns, it’s no wonder that many of us are experiencing what’s now referred to as “climate anxiety” – or “eco anxiety.”
This new condition particularly affects the young – including those in your workforce. A global survey published in 2021 by Bath University found that 60% of people aged 16-25 people felt very or extremely worried about climate change.
Every leader should be concerned about these figures. Even if you do not work within an organisation that employs young people, this generation will soon enter the workforce – and you must be able to support them.
The question is: can you help to alleviate climate anxiety and help your people lead fulfilling lives both inside and outside of the workplace?
In this guide, you’ll be introduced to climate anxiety and learn how to support your colleagues if they are experiencing it.
- What is climate anxiety?
- Is climate anxiety like anxiety?
- How to support a colleague with climate anxiety
What is climate anxiety?
Climate anxiety, also referred to as eco-anxiety, is a chronic fear of environmental doom, caused by watching the seemingly slow and irreversible impact of climate change.
This can include worrying about your own future, but also the future of your children or future generations.
A sense of loss, helplessness and frustration are common, typically stemming from a feeling that you are unable to make a difference to stop climate change.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) someone with eco-anxiety will experience common symptoms of anxiety. Symptoms of climate anxiety include:
- Feeling tense, nervous and/or fearful
- Panic attacks
- Sweating, shaking and dizziness
- Difficulty concentrating
Is climate anxiety like anxiety?
Those suffering from climate anxiety are likely to experience symptoms similar to anxiety caused by Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
And it’s no surprise. Co-lead author of the Bath University study, Caroline Hickman said that anxiety among young people was a “completely rational reaction given the inadequate responses to climate change they are seeing from governments.”
While climate anxiety is not yet something that can be diagnosed (it is not yet widely recognised), it is nonetheless affecting our colleagues, friends and families.
How to support a colleague with climate anxiety
While you may not be able to deal with the direct causes of climate change, you can support others in your organisation that may be feeling anxious.
Ultimately, you cannot “fix” climate change, but you can help others by listening to their concerns and signposting them appropriately.
There are several steps individuals can take to manage their climate anxiety. As an employer, leader or people manager, you’ll be better equipped to support someone by learning what these steps are.
And it’s important to remember, while climate change is an existential threat, it’s effects can be reduced. While the situation is precarious, it’s not all doom and gloom.
1. Develop resilience
The APA highly recommend the development of resiliency skills to reduce climate anxiety; learning to believe in your own resilience has been correlated with fewer mental health symptoms.
The APA suggest the following:
- Cultivate self-regulation skills
- Find a source of personal meaning by focusing on what you can control
- Foster optimism by learning what you can do to support the climate
For more guidance on the importance of resiliency, read our blog on why resilience is crucial for workplace health.
2. Improve awareness
In one article, submitted to the British Medical Journal, two university researchers suggest the best route to alleviating rising levels of climate anxiety is to increase optimism and hope by improving awareness.
Do this by ensuring that your colleagues have access to the best and most reliable information on climate mitigation and adaptation.
This includes encouraging others to carry out research independently through credible sources of news, so they can educate themselves and learn what they can do.
3. Encourage them to connect with nature
“Climate anxiety and climate grief can be totally debilitating,” says Leah Thomas, a sustainability influencer.
“…but we don’t have to wait until we save the planet to experience joy. Connecting with nature helps me feel joy and reminds me what we’re fighting for.”
Leah’s suggestion does carry weight. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommend those suffering from climate anxiety spend more time in nature.
For more information on the importance of nature, read this guide covering the mental health benefits of nature.
4. Use the CLASS Approach
For many of us, offering support to someone struggling – whether that’s with climate anxiety or any other form of mental ill-health – often does not come naturally.
You may be worried you don’t know what to say, or concerned you’ll make the problem worse.
To help you learn how to support others, we created the CLASS Approach – a five-step process that gives you guidance on how to support the mental health of others.
So, if you’re concerned that one of your colleagues is experiencing climate anxiety, try following the CLASS Approach.
Looking to a brighter future
The climate crisis is an existential threat to humanity, so it’s not surprising so many of us are experiencing anxiety.
While the root cause of global warming must be addressed, for now, let’s do all we can to support each other.