The Green Coach: Why Do I Feel Disconnected From Nature?
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The Green Coach: Why Do I Feel Disconnected From Nature?

Lucy Johnson on nurturing a relationship with nature

Ever been hit by eco-guilt for buying plastic-wrapped food? Or felt eco-confused over whether an aluminum can or a glass bottle was greener? In our monthly Green Coach column, Lucy Johnson, psychotherapist and founder of sustainable lifestyle consultancy Green Salon, will be tackling all our biggest questions and confessions about the complexities of living a greener life. Up this month: why do I feel disconnected from nature?

The Green Coach: Why Do I Feel Disconnected From Nature?

Dear Lucy,

I have a really stressful job in a big city and people keep telling me that I should just spend some time outside in nature to help me relax. But when I do I honestly feel disconnected and bored. I can’t really understand what they are talking about. Is there something wrong with me?

Iona

Lucy Johnson

Lucy Johnson, by Vicki Knights

Dear Iona,

When we’re not experiencing what others are experiencing, we can often feel, as you say, as if there’s something wrong with us. But from the sound of your email (which is longer than the excerpt above but which we are not publishing in full), what’s ‘wrong’ is that you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. You have an intensely busy job and it’s likely that’s kicked your adrenal system into overdrive. 

It sounds so deceptively simple: just spend time in nature and you’ll magically feel rested and relaxed. But when our systems are normalised to our fast-paced, urban lifestyles, the transition to the quiet of nature can feel jarring, even intimidating – or, as you say, just plain boring. And we can then find ourselves feeling at fault for not ‘connecting’ with nature in the way we expect.

It can help to see our city minds as shaped by cityscapes themselves: a cacophony of trundling buses and cars, noisy pavements and clattering cafes. There is always noise, always action, and people in a hurry, rushing from one meeting to another. Imagine that now as your busy mind: a constant bustle of thoughts, with the neurons rushing from one idea or memory to another. 

This sense of being constantly ‘on’ is what can make cities feel so exciting and stimulating to live in, but it can also tip us into a feeling of overwhelm. While our body’s thrive off a certain amount of stress, too much of it over time can lead to too much cortisol in our system as we get stuck in a fight-or-flight response

We feel strung out and find it hard to relax. So we turn to nature. But for some, the quietness can feel disconcerting. Without the distractions of the city, our minds can go into overdrive – or we disassociate, leaving us feeling bored and irritable.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t connect with the stillness of nature. It does mean that it’s helpful to ease yourself into spending time in nature – and to focus on being in nature. It can be so easy for us to walk past trees and flowers as if they’re wallpaper. Ostensibly, we’re out in nature and yet we’re really in our heads, replaying memories and conversations.

Two old trees

So next time, you’re outside in the park, see if you can engage your senses. Notice the play of light on the leaves, the feeling of the breeze against your skin, the rising and falling notes of the bird song. Allow yourself to be distracted not by your mind but by your senses.

If you’ve ever been in love, or mildly besotted by someone, you’ll remember how you couldn’t get enough of looking at them: of the way they flick their hair or their little half-smile. To feel connected to someone or something we need to build a relationship with them, and, odd as it may sound, the same is true of nature. 

If all of this sounds a bit out there, then play with the idea. Start small. Instead of heading out immediately to go forest bathing and get mindful with the trees, experiment with savouring your morning coffee surrounded by potted plants and deepen your breath into the stillness.

It also helps to do what you love in nature: whether that’s hiking mountain trails, swimming in the sea or basking on a beach. There’s no right or wrong way to connect with nature: it’s all about finding what lowers your cortisol levels and brings you peace.

And finally, be patient with yourself. Building any relationship takes time.

Lucy

If you’d like to learn more about deepening your relationship with nature and how nature offers us a green-print for living, then check out Lucy’s pre-recorded workshop, Nourish yourself: Nurture the Planet. Lucy Johnson is the founder of Green Salon sustainable lifestyle consultancy and a qualified psychotherapist. Eco-confused or anxious about climate change? Send her your concerns and questions to [email protected]