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What to do about the news? Halloween, 2022

Sadness and anxiety are part of life and death, the human condition, but are exacerbated by news of troubles elsewhere. 399 years ago, Robert Burton blamed news as a cause of melancholy: ‘I heare new newes every day, & those ordinary rumors of War, Plagues, Fires, Inundations, Thefts, Murders, Massacres, Meteors, Comets, Spectrums, Prodigies, Apparitions, of . . . Battels fought, so many men slain.’ [1]

Bad news has now enlarged its compass. Twenty years ago, Jack Hollander wrote, ‘Can you remember a day when you opened your morning newspaper without finding a dramatic and disturbing story about some environmental crisis that’s either here already or lurks just around the corner?’ [2]

‘The way that news is reported has changed significantly over the last 10-20 years’, Graham Davey has pointed out. ‘Nowadays we can hardly avoid it, many of us actively feel the need to seek it out, and its modern-day tone is increasingly emotive, it’s medium increasingly visual and shocking, and its commentaries increasingly negative and fear-laden. It’s not surprising that there is also growing evidence that negative news can affect our mental health, notably in the form of increased anxiety, depression and acute stress reactions.’ [3]

The 24-hour news cycle churns out violence, pandemics, natural disasters, refugee crises and war, along with the ongoing issues of climate change, extinctions, logging, land clearing, pollution and much more. Sadness, anxiety even depression are natural processes reacting to exposure to unnatural circumstances, and we can and guilt about our ethical failings with regard to both biocentric and ecocentric responsibilities.

We are in crisis. The Hopi use the word koyaanisqatsi to describe an environment out of balance, one that’s degraded. It is an ancient word made famous by Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 film about the insanity of urban industrial development. [4]

Some of us notice the degradation of our immediate environment and are in despair over our elected representatives in the daily decisions they are making at local, State and Federal levels which are failing the natural world. But we all hear about environment issues and read about them, unless we wilfully ignore this information.

Solastalgia is a neologism, coined by the Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, to clarify psychological distress caused by environmental change. He defined it as, ‘Solastalgia, simply put, is ‘the homesickness you have when you are still at home’.’[5] Albrecht has since expanded his notion of Solastalgia to include anxiety from the anticipation of future environmental catastrophes. [6]

I feel the worry and sadness, so how to counter it? We all find different ways. [7] Some use anger as an energising force. Action is important. Some become eco-warriors, camping out in blockades seeking direct action, others organise community opposition and take political action. Others contribute to the conservation ethos in their personal lives (recycling, using renewable energy, becoming vegetarian, supporting environmental groups). From what I have observed in myself and others, another healthy response is to get out into the natural environment, walk through a forest, walk by the river, get down to some gardening – and watch and listen as life unfolds around you. Researchers consistently report on the mental and physical benefits of being in such environments. Working with the natural, by engaging creatively also helps restore equilibrium among the cascade of bad news.

And in our ocular society, let’s not forget our ears and the magic of a dawn chorus. The world is musical and we share rhythm with insects, melody with birds and even a music with whales.[8] Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit, ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’, is cheerful and music can help change one’s mood, but only temporarily. We should worry and somehow, we should also aim for happiness.

A few years ago, Glenn Albrecht wrote, ‘It is my hope that within a very short period of time, the causes of solastalgia as a human emotion will be in rapid decline.’[9] I don’t have much hope in the future, but find hope in being present, and that for me is enough for now.

Today I despaired of seeing the Halloween webbing on bushes (dangerous for birds), and the shops full of black plastic decorations, toys, clothes and accessories – to be used for a few hours later today then chucked into landfill. Then I watched a Satin Bowerbird diligently work on his bower and felt refreshed.

Male Satin Bowerbird, Coffs Botanic Gardens, housekeeping



[1] Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621 to 1638, ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, et al., 6 vols. i, Oxford, 1989–2001.

[2] Jack M. Hollander, The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Influence, Is The

Environment’s Number On Enemy, U of California P, 2003, p1.

[3] Graham C. L. Davey, ‘The Psychological Impact of Negative News: Negative News can Significantly Affect our Mental Health’, September 21, 2020.

[4] ‘Reggio liked the idea of naming his film with an originally non-written language to evoke his argument that the literate culture he lived in was no longer a good describer for the insanity he saw all around. Thus, he contacted the linguist Ekkehart Malotki, who knew the Hopi language, and his Hopi co-worker Michael Lomatuway’ma. They introduced him to the word koyaanisqatsi, a concept that nailed his awareness. Reggio went to David Monongye [a Hopi spokesman] for permission. ‘David said it’s an ancient word,’ recalls Reggio today, ‘a word that’s not in popular use. He didn’t talk much about it, but he said the definition we had, took the meaning of the word’.’ Godfrey Reggio, 2018. Montserrat Madariaga, ‘Of How a Hopi Ancient Word Became a Famous Experimental Film’, May 15, 2018,

[5] Glenn Albrecht, ‘The age of solastalgia’, The Conversation, 7 August 2012.

[6] Glenn Albrecht, Mourning Nature: Hope at the Heart of Ecological Grief and Loss, Eds., Ashlee Cunsolo and Karen Landman, eds., McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017, p294–295.

[7] Psychologists experimenting on undergraduate students found, ‘These findings demonstrate that watching the news on television triggers persisting negative psychological feelings that could not be buffered by attention-diverting distraction (i.e., lecture), but only by a directed psychological intervention such as progressive relaxation.’ Attila Szabo, Katey L Hopkinson, ‘Negative psychological effects of watching the news in the television: Relaxation or another intervention may be needed to buffer them!’, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine ,14(2):57-62, 2007.

[8] Michael Spitzer, The Musical Human: A History of Life on Earth, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021.

[9] Glenn A. Albrecht, ‘Negating Solastalgia: An Emotional Revolution from the Anthropocene to the Symbiocene’, American Imago, Vol 77:1, Spring, 2020, p29.


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