Climate anxiety on the rise as environmental crisis looms on the horizon

1 comment

Climate anxiety on the rise as environmental crisis looms on the horizon


This content is contributed or sourced from third parties but has been subject to Finextra editorial review.

Global warming, environmental catastrophes, and natural disasters are becoming more commonplace globally. With the climate crisis looming above our heads, there has been a serious negative impact on the general public’s mental health.

Along with fear, hopelessness is encroaching on minds globally, with climate anxiety affecting people on a daily basis.

In this article, I explore what climate anxiety is, what are its causes, and how it may be affecting employees at your workspace.

What is eco-anxiety?

The significant environmental problems that the Earth is facing has led to a loss of biodiversity, increase in natural disasters, polluted oceans, deforestation, rising sea levels, global warming, and overexploitation of natural resources, all of which create an impending sense of doom on the workaday employee. As climate issues worsen, there have been increasing cases of eco-anxiety.

The threat of the climate crisis has become a daily source of stress in people’s lives, and the term ‘eco-anxiety’ has become a new commonality among psychologists; it is defined by the American Psychology Association (APA) as “chronic fear of environmental doom”.

In 2021, Google searches for ‘climate anxiety’ went up by 565%. Eco-anxiety impacts different people in various forms, from mental stress, physical fatigue, issues with sleep, and can sometimes contribute to depression. Anxiety is experienced by people of all ages and classes, but an article reported that women experience greater degrees of eco-anxiety in 2021.

Climate anxiety relates to the newly-coined term solastalgia, which is described by academics as feelings that arise in people when their home environment changes negatively, and is applied to situations where people are mentally affected from living in disaster-prone areas which can lead to an increased psychosis and even depression in some cases. 

It is common among Millennials and Gen Z, who worry about the state of the world as they ascend further into the abyss that is adulthood, and what it can mean for their future and the future of younger generations. These emotions of fear, anger, exhaustion, and powerlessness are oft compared to the effects of the Cold War on Baby Boomers. There is a sense of betrayal in the younger generation in how the world has been handed to them, and the fact that they need to find solutions for their elders’ mistakes.

While climate anxiety impacts people globally, there is a knowledge gap in literature surrounding the subject. The Global South has felt and will get the worst effects of climate change due to complications in ability to relocate, recover financially, and adjust to major consequences of natural disasters. Those most vulnerable to climate anxiety are children and indigenous populations, who have greater climate anxiety due to land-based livelihoods. Most research for climate anxiety comes from Western countries and sources, so there is more studies that can be done on the effects of eco-anxiety globally.


The impact of climate anxiety on mental health

There are a few different responses to climate anxiety: anxiety-inducing, self-reflective, and grief-driven; all which lead to various emotions. Those who have anxiety-inducing responses to the climate crisis feel stress and panic; people with a self-reflective response often feel emotional, guilty, and hopeless; those who have a grief-related response feel powerlessness and possess a sense of mourning when thinking about the future.

These varying responses lead to people having different degrees of eco-anxiety, and can contribute to several mental health issues, namely anxiety and depression which can impact daily functioning and planning for the future.

As a result of eco-anxiety, people experience a disconnection from nature and a deep sense of guilt. Often an issue is the people feel, but do not act on climate anxiety as they have the bystander affect; the feeling that they lack the solutions or power to make any difference and that their effort will not make a difference.

Gen Z and climate anxiety

The younger generations, particularly Gen Z, are most impacted by the climate crisis, having being raised in an era of global warming and media literacy, are susceptible to eco-anxiety in the workplace. Climate crisis is a burden on younger people, who are concerned for their future and the future of the next generations on the planet, inadequacy of response from governmental institutions leads to feelings of hopelessness in climate anxiety.

A 2021 survey of 10,000 children and young people aged 16-25 conducted in Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, UK, and the US gathered data how participants felt about climate change and the response to climate change. The data revealed that 84% of respondents were incredibly worried and 59% were moderately worried, over 45% expressed their concerns about climate change affected their day-to-day life and ability to function, 75% expressed fear of the future, and 83% stated that they believe that people have failed to take care of the planet.

An article reported that 57.3% of child and adolescent psychiatrists (47 of 82 surveyed) reported that their patients were experiencing climate anxiety, and 47.9% of adult psychiatrists (264 of 551) reported the same.

Darshna Shah, chief solutions officer at Elastacloud, states that Gen Z are rejecting job offers that do not align with their values of sustainability, citing a study that found 45% of Gen Z respondents reported that climate anxiety impacting their lives on a daily basis. Climate anxiety could be a factor in the so-called Great Resignation and increasingly high turnover rate companies are seeing.

Dr Liza Jachens, psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Nottingham, explained Gen Z’s pivotal impact on corporate responsibility and environmental sustainability:

“This generation, characterised by their acute awareness of and concern for the climate crisis, demands a transformative approach from businesses. Studies reveal that Gen Z experiences both worry and action-oriented responses to the climate crisis. Furthermore, Gen Z is noted for its active participation in climate change mitigation, driven by an existential understanding of eco-anxiety.

“This profound concern for the environment challenges businesses to fundamentally rethink their operational models, embedding sustainability at the core of their strategies. The expectation for businesses to actively address and mitigate the environmental crisis is not just a passing trend but a deeply held value among Gen Z workers. They seek work environments that not only acknowledge the gravity of the climate crisis but also take concrete steps towards sustainable practices, signalling a necessary evolution in corporate culture towards environmental stewardship and responsibility.”

According to Force of Nature, over 70% young people feel hopeless when it comes to the climate crisis, 75% of teachers do not feel equipped to teach on the topic, and 93% of workers believe that acting on climate at work can boost their motivation and benefit their mental health.

How can the workplace address eco-anxiety?

It is imperative that employees can feel secure in the workplace speaking on and receiving support for climate anxiety. The pervasive nature of climate change can impact the day-to-day life of a person suffering from eco-anxiety, and it is the role of the workplace to recognise and support their employees.

Dr Jachens outlines how climate anxiety impacts people in the workplace: “Cognitive dissonance, a psychological phenomenon where individuals experience discomfort due to conflicting beliefs or behaviours, is particularly relevant for employees grappling with the disparity between their environmental values and their workplace practices. When an individual's commitment to environmental sustainability clashes with their organisation's lack of eco-friendly initiatives, it creates a state of dissonance that can lead to feelings of guilt, frustration, and helplessness. This dissonance intensifies when individuals perceive themselves as complicit in actions that contradict their values.”

The first step for many workplaces is acknowledging the legitimacy of climate-related anxiety and offering mental and physical support for employees. As a business, there should be initiatives focused solely on reducing carbon emissions,  operating as sustainably as possible, and educating employees on the impacts of climate change and what their company is doing to combat it.

Shah comments: “One of the first things employers could do to address sustainability concerns in the workplace is to transparently communicate the current environmental impacts and clear time-defined roll out plans for sustainable changes (such as reducing energy waste, embracing hybrid working). Microsoft and many other large organisations have publicly communicated their changes, such as a departmental carbon budget and tax, which serve as great examples to other organisations.”

Shah continues that HR and sustainability teams are responsible for communicating green guidelines in the workplace and presenting the shift towards a more sustainable method of working catered to each office.

Dr Jachens adds that the workplace can take action to prevent climate anxiety among their employees by creating a space to openly discuss it, offering resources on sustainability, working to reduce their carbon footprint, and adopting more sustainable business models that cuts energy consumption and reduces environmental impact.

She states: “By actively contributing to their organisation's environmental efforts, employees can reconcile the conflict between their personal values and their professional environment, thus reducing the impact of cognitive dissonance and enhancing their overall job satisfaction and well-being.”

As an individual, Shah recommends that people channel their anxiety into constructive action: “Taking action within society or your organisation can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and guilt, whether through campaigning or collaboratively creating solutions or policies that start to incrementally reduce the carbon footprint. Many organisations have already started engaging in such change and publicising effects, so there are blueprints that can be adopted and improved. It is important to work somewhere that aligns with your personal values, so if all else fails, it is important to recognise when to part ways with an organisation that does not fulfil this need.”

A Yale research paper suggested that collective action may be able to counteract eco-anxiety. Through collective action, the social connectedness allows people to generate hope for the future. This, based on statistical research, has more of an impact on the individual against eco-anxiety compared to individual action.

Dr Jachens concludes that the workplace can make a significant impact in supporting employees with eco-anxiety by providing a framework of support for mental health, encouraging sustainable lifestyles, and engaging in sustainable initiatives.

Sustainability should no longer be an add-on for businesses to detangle after the fact, but a tenet of their practice to guide the future of a company. The planetary emergency being addressed in COP conferences and more companies are engaging in activism to push green initiatives. Fossil-fuel guzzling corporations benefit from the narrative that individual action is the only way to stop climate change, but meaningful action means that we need to take big steps and not just individuals, but big businesses and governments must take action.


Comments: (1)

Richard Peers Founder at ResponsibleRisk Ltd

Very important topic with constructive ways to address the issue.  congratulations Sehrish


This content is contributed or sourced from third parties but has been subject to Finextra editorial review.