Climate anxiety is not a new phenomenon. But it’s something that is increasingly having a negative impact on peoples’ mental health as pressure mounts to do more to tackle climate change, whether as individuals or business owners.
Earlier this month, Counsellor and Mind Management for You CEO Sheila McMahon spoke on the topic at a Staffordshire Business and Environment Network and Michelin event. Here, the Lichfield-based expert reflects on the session and shares her insight.
Firstly, climate anxiety is real. It even has its own name – ‘Eco-anxiety’ and it’s described as being an emotional response to climate change and other environmental issues.
There is a misconception that this mainly affects young people. But, from my experience working in my private practice, it affects people of all ages.
There is a lot about our planet that is not ok, and how we are treating it is not OK. As a collective of sustainable businesses at the talk, we all agreed that everything is not ok in the world, and that, we all need to talk about climate anxiety.
Being ok with not being ok
People are going through a real roller coaster of emotions when it comes to climate anxiety at the moment. I invited the audience to name some of their feelings, and it was a mix of hopelessness, guilt, anger (I later introduced them to my anger cushion!), grief, sadness, helplessness, and fear. I highlighted how important it is for people and their work colleagues to have a space to voice their concerns and have space to not be ok.
Talks like this can get very serious, so to add some light-heartedness, I got close to the screen to ask if the people online were wearing any trousers! I then acknowledged that they were probably wearing extra trousers to save on fuel to protect the environment! Humour is important even with a serous topic as humour relaxes people and people learn and engage better when they are relaxed.
CEOs and managers are really feeling the responsibility of climate change and environmental issues. Sometimes they don’t know what’s best. Sometimes all the solutions still effect the environment. We also acknowledged that sometimes, due to financial pressures, CEOs must make decisions that might conflict with their moral compass, if their business is to survive.
Anxiety can get out of hand but what we can do is ground ourselves and self-regulate. I shared a calming technique called rectangular breathing and I recommend you try it too here.
We can take practical steps to help our mental health in this area like reducing our carbon footprint, cycling, walking wherever we can. These steps can empower individuals to regain a sense of control over the situation and can help with feelings of personal guilt regarding carbon emissions.
However, it may also be necessary to limit how much we watch the news, especially if the type of news we hear is fear provoking.
I shared a story about a client who finds watching David Attenborough’s series too upsetting. She also worries about others thinking she doesn’t care and judges her for not watching them. Is this you too? If so, I shared with her that it sounded like, you care so much, that that is why it’s affecting you.
“Little old me?!”
There is much more I shared, about self-boundaries and self-responsibility, and where in many cases, when people say: ‘Little old me’ or ‘Just me’, I can’t make a difference. But it can be flipped around to make massive changes when we collectively come together.
Conversations empower individuals and companies to inspire action.
Engaging in community sustainability initiatives can create a sense of purpose and belonging in the larger effort to combat climate change.
I encouraged the introduction of climate check-in sessions and shared my solution to help colleagues and managers to gain the confidence and the skills to have these sessions.
The audience were fully engaged, responsive and a pleasure to deliver too. We finished off with the song ‘What a wonderful world’ – one that we all agreed is worth fighting for.