The impact of climate change on human civilisation has been devastating in recent years. Extreme weather events like heat waves, global warming, forest fires, cloudbursts, increased carbon emissions and melting glaciers can cause irreversible harm to ecosystems and disrupt lives. Additionally, affected regions are experiencing increased disease and mortality rates, causing widespread devastation.
As people become more aware of the impact of climate change on current and future generations, they may experience feelings of fear and distress, also known as climate anxiety, climate stress, eco-anxiety or climate grief. This condition can significantly risk global health, individual mental well-being, and organisational resilience. In order to tackle this enduring issue, it's vital that individuals, institutions, communities, healthcare providers, and governmental bodies work together to mitigate the growing climate risk crisis.
The root causes of climate anxiety are manifold - apprehension about an unpredictable future, a sense of powerlessness amidst worldwide crises, and guilt for either adding to the issue or not sufficiently addressing it. This is further intensified by the escalating media reporting on climate-related incidents and catastrophes, and the near-constant release of scientific studies only heightens this anxiety even more.
Experiencing climate anxiety can lead to severe and debilitating psychological effects, with symptoms such as constant worry, stress, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of hopelessness and despair. Even younger individuals have reported these effects. Additionally, some may feel a sense of loss and grief for a past world or future that is no longer desirable for their children.
Furthermore, several climate stress test reports have shown that the effects of climate change can have a negative impact on productivity and the ability to focus and make decisions. This can be particularly concerning for employers, as employees may struggle to concentrate and perform effectively due to preoccupation with climate-related concerns, reducing organisational resilience. Hence, climate anxiety needs to be tackled both at an individual as well as organisational level.
At an individual level, the first step is to recognise and accept that global events and crises impact each of us. This can help affected individuals feel less isolated, and as a collective experience, they can feel more supported in coping with negative emotions. Confiding in and working with support systems like family and friends or even seeking professional help is crucial in helping individuals deal with anxiety. Psychotherapy and counselling can provide a safe space to explore and manage these emotions effectively.
Organisations need to contribute positively to increasing awareness about climate change and fostering climate literacy in the workplace. This can provide those affected with a sense of orientation and inspire constructive action that alleviates feelings of helplessness.
Having a workplace health and wellbeing policy that encourages and promotes emotional resilience can help employees cope with climate anxiety. Mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and spending time in nature are proven strategies that foster emotional wellbeing.
This, coupled with a robust organisational policy on sustainability, prompts tangible steps toward climate action across the organisation and any step, no matter how small, can be empowering and help individuals regain a sense of control. Supporting eco-friendly initiatives and participating in employee or community-led climate projects can be impactful ways to channel anxiety into positive action.
For organisations moving towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, International SOS has been helping them accelerate the adoption of sustainable business practices. Our Global Health Advisory Services are delivered by subject matter experts with extensive experience in sustainability. Efforts targeted towards meeting SDG 3 and SDG 8 include a laser focus on employee safety, health, and wellbeing, with scalable initiatives directed at all levels of the hierarchy. International SOS’ Workforce Resilience Programme and Workplace Wellness programs ensure organisational resilience by supporting the needs of our clients’ workforce worldwide. From remote and geographically hostile locations to urban corporate offices, our solutions are customisable and reach and enhance employee wellbeing everywhere.
Climate anxiety led by the climate crisis is a problem that promises to continue growing unless immediate steps are initiated The psychological toll on individuals and future generations cannot be ignored. Building and implementing supportive strategies can contribute to a more resilient and mentally healthy society.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance.
- Clayton, S. et al (2017). Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance. American Psychological Association, and ecoAmerica.
- Hossain, M. M et al (2019). Psychological adaptation to environmental change: Exploring the perceptions of human migration in Bangladesh. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 13(2), 135-152.
- The Lancet Planetary Health. (2020). Climate change and mental health: an alarming issue. The Lancet Planetary Health, 4(7), e266.Climate Anxiety: Understanding and Managing the Psychological Impact of Climate Change