Thursday, 30 April 2020
A Guide to Eco-Anxiety by Anouchka Grose
Subtitled How to Protect the Planet and Your Mental Health, this book sets out to answer the question: If the very planet we live on seems to be on course for total ecological collapse, how can any of us hope to keep going? While the book only mentions COVID_19 very briefly (it was written before the pandemic hit) much of the content is very relevant to coping with the anxiety many people are feeling about the coronovirus pandemic.
Anouchka Grose is a psychoanalyst and offers easily understandable definitions of what anxiety is and looks at the physiological basis for the feelings. She outlines how anxiety can be used to inform our actions but also shares ideas, including meditation, therapy and medication, for preventing anxiety from taking over. Climate grief is a fear of losing our current way of life and anxiety may well be the sane response to the situation we live in. Can we find a middle ground between climate related nervous breakdown and climate denial? Grose offers insights into why we may treat the earth so badly. looks at two alternative ways of dealing with this grief, the political and the psychoanalytical.
This book gives a condensed history of early approaches to environmentalism and why they failed, most sobering of these failures being the lack of long term impact from the first Earth Day in 1970. Grose also looks at contemporary thinkers such as ornithologist Janis Dickinson whose work addresses environmental issues and mental wellbeing issues together, such as encouraging urban gang members to redirect their energies into conservation work. Dickinson's work also inspired Grose to install a birdfeeder outside her consulting room, which both she and her patients benefit from.
Grose offers advice on how can we manage our feelings in the face of ecological catastrophe; useful attitudes to adopt (such as curiosity, generosity, social engagement, ingenuity, honesty and an active hope). She asserts that if we understand more of our unconscious drives, we may become less likely to act unthinkingly in ways that damage our environment. She urges us to be kind to ourselves, pointing out that none of us can do everything and feeling guilty doesn't help anyone. She suggests that while much mental health advice focuses on extroverts, the quiet power of the introvert could prove very valuable in the looming climate crisis.
She also discusses practical approaches to reducing our personal environmental impact at home, in our gardens, at work and when travelling. She advises how to do enjoy the things you enjoy (for example clothes, food, hobbies) in more eco-friendly ways, often in ways that are less well known (for example she offers some particularly useful advice on how to make tights last longer). Occasionally, however she leans so far towards laissez-faire environmentalism it seems almost no environmentalism at all ("If you LOVE steak, and can handle the idea of a cow being killed and rainforests cut down to clear land for the sake of your enjoyment, maybe it’ll be better for you in the long run to allow yourself to eat it seems a total cop out, though at least she does then say "consciously choosing cows who have at least lived more locally to you". Livestock farming can indeed be eco-friendly (see my review of the film The Biggest Little Farm) but large scale ranching is so damaging that any environmentalist should know never to eat meat that has been shipped in from former rainforests.
Grose picks up on specific issues and situations from across the globe. For example, climate change impacts on travel in Greenland mean that people are becoming isolated, leading to increased depression and causing a rise in the rate of suicides. The current lockdown is certain to be having similar negative effects on people's mental health and well-being.
We live in a world in crisis and it can be very challenging to maintain good feelings of mental and emotional wellbeing. This book does a good job of helping the reader to understand more about eco-anxiety and to find practical ways to manage anxiety about climate change. And it's important to remember as Grose says: "Don’t let environmentalism frighten you into a lacklustre existence. A responsible life can still be utterly brilliant."
A Guide to Eco-Anxiety by Anouchka Grose published (2020) by Watkins.
Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the uncorrected proof of this book in return for an honest review.
And if you're interested in the specific effects of COVID_19 on mental well being, you may be interested in this article by Gary Greenberg on the Guardian website.