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How concerned are you about global warming, environmental change and natural disasters?

If you’re feeling anxious about the planet’s future, you’re not alone. A recent Yale study reported that 62 per cent of Americans are somewhat concerned about global warming and 21 per cent are extremely concerned. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reports that climate change is the greatest challenge of the 21st century, threatening all aspects of society.

But the heightened concern can also increase the risk of experiencing a mental health concern called eco-anxiety. And like all forms of anxiety, that could cause employees to come to work worried and distracted, leading to loss of engagement and productivity.

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Awareness

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes eco-anxiety as a chronic fear of environmental doom; a source of stress caused by watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, one’s children, and future generations; feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to their inability to feel like they’re making a difference in stopping climate change.

More specifically, a person with eco-anxiety will typically experience common anxiety symptoms such as feeling nervous, tense, or fearful, restlessness, panic attacks, in severe cases, a rapid heart rate, fast breathing or hyperventilation, sweating, shaking, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, nausea, digestive issues, feeling too cold or too hot and chest pain.

Though eco-anxiety is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which means doctors don’t officially consider it a diagnosable condition, it’s having an impact on some people, and like any mental health challenge it will require a person deciding to act.

In Canada, a Lancet Countdown 2018 report suggested because of eco-anxiety mental health concerns will increasingly be included in climate vulnerability and impact assessments.

Accountability

One place to start if you’re concerned about climate change and experiencing eco-anxiety is to be accountable for what’s within your control. For example, be mindful of all the micro decisions you can make daily that are good for the environment and climate. Walk rather than drive, use a glass bottle instead of plastic, make buying decisions based on emission rates, and look for ways to shrink your carbon footprint.

What also can help you learn what you can do and understand what’s happening to the planet is to do your own research and get your own facts. Look for trusted and credible sources of news, podcasts (i.e., Mindspace) and information so that you can stay informed with facts.

Action

The APA recommends for individuals looking to better manage their fears and anxiety about global change and the potential threat for disasters is to build up their internal resiliency and tap into their local community and social support networks that share similar concerns.

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Following are a few tips from the APA on how to develop resiliency that can assist in lowering eco-anxiety:

  • Build belief in your own resilience learning to believe in your own resilience has been correlated with fewer mental health symptoms.
  • Foster optimism learning how to positively reframe concerns about the planet can assist in breaking out of a cycle of negative emotions.
  • Cultivate active coping and self-regulationlearning how to be better self-regulated can reduce your risk for making impulsive decisions rather than getting all the facts.
  • Find a source of personal meaningfocusing on what you can control and putting energy into activities that provide meaning can help focus your attention on what’s good in your life.
  • Boost personal preparednessbeing pro-active and preparing for potential disasters can help ease your mind that you’ve done what you can in the event of a natural disaster such as flooding.
  • Support social networks focus on building healthy social networks so that in the event of a disaster you know you have support systems in place and ready.

If you’re struggling and not sure if you can manage your concerns alone, community resources such as the Canadian Mental Health Association provide advice on managing eco-anxiety. As well, you can contact your employee and family assistance representative or share your concerns with your medical doctor or mental health professional (e.g., psychologist).

The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: employeerecommended.com. This series of articles supports the award.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2019 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

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