Helping employees cope with ecoanxiety

Une femme tient un bac rempli d'électroniques

Is ecoanxiety real or simply the latest buzzword? Well, it's real and more common than you think because the idea of climate change can be overwhelming. Are any of your employees suffering from ecoanxiety? If so, then keep reading for tips on helping them cope.

What is ecoanxiety?

Ecoanxiety is a form of emotional anxiety that is triggered by climate change and other environmental issues. In some people, the response is such that it causes insomnia, obsessive thinking and panic attacks.

Right now, the situation is conducive to ecoanxiety. Signs of climate change and biodiversity loss are everywhere, not to mention the endless stream of dire news in the media. The fate of the world is uncertain to the point that some people are worried about bringing children into it.

Is ecoanxiety new?

Not really because concern for the climate is nothing new. However, the word, ecoanxiety, is only about 20 years old. The fact that it’s been around this long, however, means it’s real and that it's growing. According to the Quebec Climate Action Barometer, nearly half of all Canadians (47%) reported experiencing ecoanxiety in the past year.

Spotting the warning signs

First of all, concern about climate change is normal—and healthy. It’s what motivates us to make positive changes.

That being said, ecoanxiety can be detrimental to employee morale and mental health.

Keep an eye out for these signs:

  • Obsession over climate change and the environment
  • Fatalism (what's the point, it's already too late!)
  • Guilt about one’s carbon footprint
  • Anger at the government’s inaction
  • Resentment towards previous generations
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Sleep or concentration problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Loss of appetite

This is just a partial list, which means that other symptoms can lead to internal suffering as well.

Who's most at risk?

While the fate of the planet concerns everyone, the following groups are more likely to suffer from ecoanxiety:

  • Millennials (fear the impact of climate change on their future)
  • The First Nations (nature is central to their culture and daily lives)
  • Equity-seeking groups (lack resources to cope with the crisis)
  • Food chain workers (farmers, fishermen, ranchers, etc.)
  • Activists (exhaustion and discouragement caused by the sheer scale of the task)
  • First responders (witness the effects of climate change first-hand)

How can you help ecoanxious employees?

Unfortunately, ecoanxiety and concerns about climate change are not going away any time soon.

Despite the fact that your employees’ fears are well-founded, you must help them cope with their ecoanxiety and uncertainty about the future.

Promote a culture of caring and open communication

Talking can help defuse emotional stress. Being able to acknowledge that a situation is distressing without fear of judgement is reassuring.

  • Initiate an open discussion where employees can voice their concerns in a caring space.
  • Create peer support groups. When people talk to others who are experiencing similar problems, they often find solutions and resources to manage their emotions.
  • Organize information sessions to raise awareness on mental health, anxiety and the solutions that science has to offer.

Promote environmental well-being

A good way to boost your sense of worth is to take action—take control of your situation.

  • Encourage your employees to take care of themselves. Remind them to respect their boundaries, turn off their screens, rest when they’re tired and get closer to nature.
  • Encourage employees to be part of the solution. Applaud those who choose to go zero-waste, carpool or use green transportation, and change their consumption habits.
  • Encourage your employees to get involved in green projects. Provide information on eco-friendly construction options (like rooftop beehives), community gardens as well as tree and plant distribution. Solutions are out there, and every gesture counts.

What to do about ecoanxiety when it becomes a problem?

Some experts believe that ecoanxiety is a form of generalized anxiety disorder that can affect those who are already anxious about other things. Others believe that it is a standalone condition that requires treatment. Despite this lack of clinical consensus, the suffering is very real.

If ecoanxiety is affecting your employees’ well-being, refer them to professional services through the Employee Assistance Program or to the virtual healthcare provider included in your group insurance plan.