Charly Cox - anxietatea climatica
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Charly Cox, Climate Change Coaches: Climate anxiety impacts more people than we think

Climate anxiety (or eco-anxiety) is becoming a topic of interest even for those who do not have climate change at the forefront of their minds. At the end of last year, Google searches related to “climate anxiety” reached a record level. Consequently, on a global scale, searches about “climate anxiety” or “eco-anxiety” increased by 4,590% from 2018 to 2023, according to company data.

The most frequently searched questions were “What is eco-anxiety?” and “How to deal with climate anxiety?” In an attempt to find answers to these questions, we spoke with Charly Cox, one of the climate change coaching pioneers, author, COP27 speaker, and co-founder of Climate Change Coaches.

What is climate anxiety and how big of an issue is this at the moment? 

Climate anxiety can manifest in several ways. It is most often deep, all-consuming feelings of dread and concern that humankind (and non-humankind) will not survive the climate crisis, combined with strong feelings of powerlessness. Often the people most impacted by climate anxiety are those who have come to terms with the problem or realised the extent of the threat. 

In many ways, climate anxiety is a normal response to the scale of the emotion scale problem. This is probably a larger group than most organisations realise. Many people are deeply concerned, but looking the other way out of feelings of powerlessness.  

Who are the ones impacted the most by climate anxiety and how can we improve the situation? 

Climate anxiety often manifests in feelings of scarcity and not enough. The worst thing we can do is tell people that they’re wrong to be anxious. Instead, we can help by first listening to someone share their feelings without trying to fix them, loosen their sense that they are the only one feeling this way and regain a sense of control. 

Part of this involves reviving their belief that others are taking action and that they are safe right now. Anxiety also lives high in the body, so taking deep breaths and connecting to the present moment can ground someone. We also know that getting into action is a key enabler of resilience and helps deescalate anxiety. 

How do these issues affect people’s professional and personal life? 

For those working on this issue professionally, this anxiety can drive us, but drive us over the edge into burnout. In avoiding sitting with the feelings, we try to outrun them by working hard to somehow feel that we are eliminating the threat. Climate anxiety may also reduce our engagement with others, if we feel misunderstood or simply too anxious to enjoy normal life. It can impact our personal life and our relationships, as we try to share our feelings with others not by being vulnerable but by being alarmist, in an unskilful attempt to recruit others to join us in taking action. 

What do you think the future looks like in terms of climate change coaching and the need for this service? And who will benefit the most? 

As the impacts of climate change are felt more deeply around the world, the imperative to change the way that organisations operate will increase, alongside the real world costs of operating in more volatile environments and the emotional toll that these environments will take on staff in them. 

Multinationals with operations on the frontline of the crisis will need to support their staff in those places in more meaningful ways than they currently do. An example of this might be staff at a call centre in Bangladesh being unable to go to work due to their homes being flooded. How the company handles both their practical and emotional needs will matter not just to that team but to the people in other countries that work with them. As humans we build relationships, and our experience of training staff from multiple countries in the same cohort tells us that people connect with and care for each other. 

Companies can either increase their employees’ powerlessness by standing idly by or demonstrate that the wider system does care by stepping in. We like to say that all jobs are climate jobs, and increasingly this is being baked into the job descriptions of people outside of the sustainability or ESG teams. 

As this happens, the need for people like us to help people do their jobs in the spectre of climate change will become more necessary, as will training these new entrants to this world in the kind of influencing skills that old hands may intuitively have developed. In this way we can help new entrants steer clear of burnout, maintain purpose and inspire others to follow them.

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