What is a VUCA World and How Does it Affect Our Mental Health?

We often hear older folks becoming nostalgic about the simpler times that they lived in. Life has certainly changed in significant ways compared to even 20 years ago. You may have also noticed mental health becoming a more common concern. This is also an indicator of the changing times. We live in a far more connected world where change is a constant thanks to technology.

The modern world is changing at a very rapid pace, and it’s affecting our mental health in ways that we have not evolved to cope with.

Whenever we look around us, we find too many things happening. Whether it’s our personal or professional life or social or electronic media; we are witnessing change, uncertainty, and turbulence. This phenomenon has a name: VUCA.

VUCA world concept on screen. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity. This is impacting our mental health.
VUCA world concept on screen. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity. This is impacting our mental health.

This is a new phase of human civilization that we have entered as a global society for which VUCA is an adequate description. It is an acronym that stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. It communicates how the world has become an unpredictable, uncertain, and complex place.

Since we live in a VUCA world, it is critical for us to understand how the current world and the way it is evolving, impacts our mental health.

The origin of the notion of VUCA

The term ‘VUCA’ was first used in 1987, drawing on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. The U.S. Army War College introduced the concept of VUCA in the post-Cold War period. The purpose was to understand what was going in the world post-cold-war, and how one could deal with it.

While the concept of VUCA was initially introduced to be used by the army, after the 2008 financial crisis, its use was extended to the business world as well.

What does a VUCA world mean?

The world is continually evolving, and we are gradually entering the VUCA world. Rapid and constant change is an essential feature of the VUCA world.

Let us unpack each word of the acronym to understand and reflect on how the world is getting more and more defined by VUCA.

Volatility

The world isn’t steady; change is the focal point of all existence. Change happens faster in this unpredictable world. Rapid climate change, globalization, financial crisis, political complexity make the world we live in a volatile one.

Line drawing of volatality icon to indicate VUCA world
Line drawing of volatality icon to indicate VUCA world

Recent examples of volatility would be the terrorist attack in India, the sudden slowdown in the world economy, the U.K.’s Brexit vote, and so on.

With this level of political, social, and economic changes worldwide, it’s not surprising that our mental stress is rising every day.

Uncertainty

VUCA indicates a world where it is hard to make a prediction. We have to navigate a world full of unknowns. The world is evolving at a very fast pace and we don’t know what the future holds for human civilization.

Young woman decides to take a difficult step into the future. Girl in fear and indecision is worth on the edge of a cliff and looks forward. Concept of a difficult choice and uncertainty in a VUCA world and how it impacts mental health
Young woman decides to take a difficult step into the future. Girl in fear and indecision is worth on the edge of a cliff and looks forward. Concept of a difficult choice and uncertainty in a VUCA world and how it impacts mental health

The advancement of technology does not ease the uncertainty, in fact, it amplifies it and makes it worse. Even if we don’t recognize it, robotics and artificial intelligence are becoming a part of our lifestyle. They are already and will continue to replace numerous work and jobs in ways we cannot imagine. It will create havoc or uncertainty in many peoples’ lives.

Human beings don’t thrive in an environment of uncertainty and this is bound to have a direct impact on our mental health.

Complexity

Complexity indicates the amount of information, the variety of factors that we need to take into account. The more the information and number of factors, the more complex our reality is.

A man looking up at a complex scribble of chalk line drawing
A man looking up at a complex scribble of chalk line drawing

We live in a digital world where we can access millions of pieces of information and data easily. The more information we access, interpret, apply, and compare to make decisions, the more complicated it gets.

We live in a world where we go digital to decide where to eat, travel, or wear for college. So much information can drain us of energy and result in decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is a term we use to describe the feeling when we’re overly stressed by the endless decisions we have to make. Over time, decision fatigue can lead to anxiety, irritability, and depression.

Ambiguity

Ambiguity refers to an absence of clarity. The COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of the VUCA world and how we live in an uncertain world. The pandemic is a battle against the invisible enemy. We can see what is happening all around us, but don’t know its cause with certainty; nor do we completely understand its effects. The impact of this pandemic on our mental health can’t be ignored.

Man walking on hanging bridge vanishing in fog to indicate ambiguity
Man walking on hanging bridge vanishing in fog to indicate ambiguity

The post-COVID world for example, with job loss and recession, could lead to depression and stress in our lives.

It will be tough to cope with all the ambiguity without mental resilience in the VUCA world.

So, we live in a VUCA world. What next?

Now that we recognize that we live in an ever-changing, complex world, we have to acknowledge and try to predict how this impacts us individually, and as a civilization.

When circumstances are this complex and uncertain, the future of our lives, economy, regional, and global affairs will constantly evolve and change.

It also means that the way we live and the situations around us will not be consistent. We will hit roadblocks, jobs will be lost, lifestyles will have to change. This is evident from the events over the recent few years. 10–15 years ago, we did not have social media, Uber, online shopping, education, and entertainment at this scale.

Our survival will depend on how well we can adapt and shift to capture new opportunities and grow with the changes happening around us. This refers to the quality of resilience, which is perhaps one of the most crucial qualities needed to survive and even thrive in the VUCA world.

Image showing the domains of resilience to survive in a VICA world
Image showing the domains of resilience to survive in a VICA world

In order to stay resilient, recover from obstacles, and quickly adapt in this VUCA world, we need to prioritize our mental health.

To conclude..

Change is inevitable, but rapid change can be challenging and overwhelming. Rapid change brings uncertainty and complexity. As the VUCA world continues to expand, it might be difficult for us to accept and adapt to the changes but the journey can also be exciting, full of learning. In fact, being a lifelong learner is the single most important decision to make in the VUCA world.

New Skills and Training records in the notepad. Lifelong learning is needed to survive in a VUCA world
New Skills and Training records in the notepad. Lifelong learning is needed to survive in a VUCA world

Information, knowledge, and perspectives will help you connect the dots and navigate this complex world better. One of our primary aims at Lokyatha is to help you equip yourself to adapt to the VUCA world with the help of such knowledge and perspectives on mental health.

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Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational and educational purposes only. Lokyatha has observed best effort due diligence and all health related content is reviewed by a trained professional before publishing. However, this should not and can not replace personalized medical help. Please refer to a professional in all cases of need.

Lokyatha is an education focused initiative to enable young adults to live better, more fruitful lives by delivering real world life skills.