Solastalgia: why so many of us have it

The concept of ‘home’ is difficult to define. For some people, it’s another person; for others, it’s an indefinable feeling. But all of us have places that we call home, whether they’re imbued with childhood familiarity or borne of new attachments made later in our lives. That connection to a familiar environment brings with it […]

Solastalgia: why so many of us have it

By Imogen Malpas

The concept of ‘home’ is difficult to define. For some people, it’s another person; for others, it’s an indefinable feeling. But all of us have places that we call home, whether they’re imbued with childhood familiarity or borne of new attachments made later in our lives. That connection to a familiar environment brings with it community, identity and comfort – and a sense of permanence, reassuring us that whatever may change in our own lives, home will still be there to welcome us back. But our homes are changing, and the damage it’s doing to our collective psyche is profound.

“Solastalgia” is the word that describes the new nostalgia for this generation: that deep sense of distress experienced by those watching their homes, those places familiar to them, be drowned, burned or swept away by the increasingly erratic forces of nature. It describes the psychological effect of climate change’s intrusion into our personal lives – a homesickness for the home you once had, but are losing before your eyes. Solastalgia has been documented among Australian farmers watching their beloved fields waste away under aggressive droughts, Appalachian citizens whose mountainous homelands are being cut away to enable coal mining, and Arizonans that have lost their neighbourhoods and communities to ever more frequent forest fires. Symptoms of solastalgia include hopelessness, fatigue, anger, guilt and despair.

Sound familiar? You’re definitely not alone. Depending on where you live, the circumstances of climate change and environmental disruption might not be so drastic, but it turns out that it doesn’t take much to throw the delicate mental and emotional balance between us and our surroundings out of whack. It’s now widely recognised that there’s a close link between mental health and the world around us: a ten-year survey of 2 million people found that for every increase in temperature of 1 degree Celsius in an area of America, the area’s population saw a 2% rise in mental health issues. It gets worse: an analysis of multiple studies concluded that the higher the heat, the greater the increase in interpersonal conflict, violence and suicide. Destroying our planet means destroying ourselves.

‘Symptoms of solastalgia include hopelessness, fatigue, anger, guilt and despair.’

The relief of naming this desperate sense of loss is the first small step towards recovery. But what else can we do about it? Here’s a toolkit for the days when it feels like your footprints are too heavy for the earth.

  • Donate to (or volunteer for) causes close to home
    Find whatever your community is in danger of losing, and defend it. This might be a wildlife reserve, a local park, a farm or a lake – whatever it is, lending your time or money to keeping it staffed and safe will not only benefit your environment for years to come but will show you how much power you have to determine the future of your world.
  • Forest bathing
    Time spent in nature is perhaps the most powerful non-medical restorative out there. This Japanese practice (don’t worry – no nudity involved) allows you to connect directly and physically with the environment around you. Find out more at forestryengland.uk.
  • Talk about how you feel
    It’s hard to put a lot of feelings into words, and solastalgia is no exception. But if so many people are experiencing something that a new term has been coined to describe it, chances are that those around you will get exactly where you’re coming from. Bringing up your fears with friends might lead to constructive discussion and new ideas on how to conserve what’s most important to you, and at the very least will reassure you that you don’t have to shoulder your worries alone.
  • Commit to one concrete action a day
    When it comes to the environment, the saying ‘every little helps’ couldn’t ring truer. Choose an eco-friendly action – whether that’s quitting meat for one day a week, investing in a reusable coffee cup for your daily fix, or heading to the local farmer’s market instead of a chain store for your groceries – and try to stick to it.
  • Start at home
    Little by little, you can transform your home into an oasis for you, your mind, and the environment. There’s so much you can do to make your house a haven of sustainability – you could start with establishing a bee haven outside your window, by planting bee-friendly plants like lavender and rosemary in a window box; heat-proofing your house on a budget by installing insulation and white-backed curtains; or switching harmful commercial cleaning products for their natural, gentler alternatives like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda
  • Write to your MP
    They’re there for a reason – and your voice has more power than you might think. Step one: find out what your MP has been saying about climate change at theyworkforyou.com. Not looking promising? Step two: write to them via their website, or contact the lobbying group Hope For The Future (hopeftf@gmail.com) for support. You can find even more creative ways of getting their attention at campaigncc.org. Bottom line: you can make them make a difference.

More of Imogen’s work here

More on climate change at Hope For The Future’s website here

 

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