Do You Feel the Solastalgia?

I can remember when I first came here.

I had been living in the middle of a forest for seven years, with pine trees, spruces and various kinds of leaf trees all around me. The river would run by, I only had to walk for five minutes or so to get to the beach. On both sides of my apartment there were green fields with different animals; sheep, mostly, but also cows and horses. My neighbour even had a tame white fox that would come by every now and then to see if I had been eating anything tasty, hoping I’d left a bite for him in my garbage.

My cats would run free, jumping in and out of my bedroom window at will. Occasionally, they’d be so kind as to bring me food from the wild. Mostly dead, and sometimes not so dead mice and frogs were frequently on the menu. There is nothing quite like trying to catch a snow mouse under your couch in the middle of the night!

A badger had his nest just a few meters from where I’d park my car. One time I even had two giant badgers fighting right outside of my front door, smacking it shut with a bang when my partner (at the time) for some insane reason tried to open it to see what was going on.

At night, I’d hear the moose call. I’d hear an owl every now and then, and birds would sing each and every morning outside my open bedroom window.

Then I came here.

It was OK, at first, to live in such a crowded area. I got rid of my cats, due to my serious allergies which I had been trying to ignore for way too long, and it felt so good to finally own a house, to start a real family with my new partner.

But then it set in. I had no words for it at the time, though. All I knew was that my heart was breaking. There was no place left for me to hide. When I’d feel the need to run down to the river, there was no river – only a dammed-up excuse for one. When I felt the need to smell the pine scented, warm forest, there was no forest to be found – there were a few trees here and there, and I could see the dark, wonderful forest from my porch, but it was too far away. I could see it – but I couldn’t reach it.

I couldn’t feel it.

And I cried.

My good Goddess, how I cried. Night after night I’d just break down in tears, not able to stop the endless streams down my face, knowing I would not be able to survive if I couldn’t reconnect with nature and let my roots grow deep into the new land I was standing on. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, so completely desolate, alone… and disconnected.

It actually took me three years to regain my balance and to discover the places I could reach from here. A nice lady told me how I could take a shortcut and get into the woods in only about 10-15 minutes by foot, and it saved my sanity. That summer was spent outside, walking, running, fleeing, crying and reconnecting with myself and with my beloved nature.  I finally found rich, earthy nourishment for my roots again.

And I finally healed.

After this experience, I find I have become extremely sensitive to environmental changes in the immediate nature around me. For the last year or so my city has started chopping down forest all over the place – and I swear I can feel the trees hurting. The energy of pain is all around at such sites, and I feel so deprived. So let down. So completely and utterly miserable and ignored. Helpless. Angry and resigned.

It’s like I’m living in my very own, personal Avatar movie. I actually had to brace myself from screaming in sheer agony and frustration when I went to the movies and saw that one, because the pain was so familiar to me.

Last week I picked up a book by Richard Louv called The Nature Principle. A few chapters into it, he starts talking about something called solastalgia, a term coined by the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, and it hit home with me. Hard.

In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’” NY Times

I have no doubt in my heart that this is an actual, mental and emotional pain. I know that if my forest, my solace, were destroyed and taken from me, I would suffer beyond words and quite possibly manifest physical symptoms as well.

And it makes me wonder.

What are we doing to the planet, we are doing to ourselves. We are only now starting to research how nature can heal and sooth us, and how it impacts our mental, emotional and physical health. I think we’ve only just seen the beginning of this trend, and there will be many more scientific reports to come and many more healing methods based on this ecopsychology.

Because what if?

What if depressions, anxiety and general stress actually stems, at least in part, from this solastalgia? What if we actually need nature around us to feel supported, safe, sane and balanced? I know that there are many more factors that need to be taken into account, but what if access to green, living, breathing nature is one of our core conditions for living a healthy, happy life?

Would we stop destroying nature if we realized that we are actually bringing mental suffering on ourselves, in the here and now, as opposed to a possible environmental disaster in some distant future?

I truly don’t know.

But I do know this:

If you are one of the ones who feel this solastalgia, you need to speak up. There will always be someone who picks up on something first, and they need to make the others aware. Don’t think that you are insane. You aren’t.

You are, in fact, deeply needed.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography


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0 thoughts on “Do You Feel the Solastalgia?

  1. Nienna, I am a great fan of Richard Louv and his work. You write sensitively about a topic that becomes increasingly relevant in a world that is being hit hard by negative change. Your response is reasonable! … the failure to respond is a form of ecoparalysis as I feel we all experience some form of distress when our home environment, places that we love, are being trashed by forces that seem out of control. I am working on these ideas and more will follow, but for now you might like to look at this link on my Blog:

    More soliphilia to you. Glenn Albrecht.

    1. Thank you for that. 🙂

      Ecoparalysis… that rings true to me, somehow. I think the main problem is that it’s been such a slow process (even if it’s all to fast!)so that we are slowly getting used to being killed, not even reflecting on it. It’s a puzzle.

      1. Hi Nienna, I agree it is a puzzle. We evolved as small patch disturbers, but now our patch is the whole world. We are not equipped by evolution to deal with that. We have to culturally evolve in a big hurry!



  2. Beautifully written Nienna, I love this. I am convinced that if we drew 2 graphs: 1 to show how much time we spend in nature compared to 50 years ago and 1 to show how much stress, depression and anxiety there is compared to 50 years ago there would be an exact correlation. This is exactly why we set up We’ve turned our back on nature but it only takes a tiny shift to turn back xx

    1. Thanks, Jackie! 🙂 Yeah, I’m absolutely sure you are right about that. And I love your work, we need you and all the others working with this issue, so very badly. Thanks for making that effort! 🙂

    2. Jackie, I’m sure you are right. I’m so grateful that I live in a place where I can connect with nature on a regular basis. Barefoot Breathing is definitely an antidote to stress, depression and anxiety!

  3. I’ve experienced this as well Nienna, I have found it calming to connect with the overlighting deva of the place and send love when they are cutting down trees especially. I tell them to withdraw their life force, so before the cutting begins (or during) it is the same feeling as when we (humankind) have an out of body experience as a result of a major car accident. They see what is occurring but feel no physical pain. I do this when I am harvesting or pruning in my garden as well.

  4. Nienna you are definitely on to something there. It reminds me of the book «Last Child in the Woods:
    Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder» by Richard Louv. I think we all suffer to a certain degree from nature deficit when living in he city.

    I work in children’s mental health, and see the effects of too much «screen time» and not enough outdoors time on children. My colleagues and I started a children’s therapeutic garden at our centre for this very reason, because we see the benefits of nature to their mental health.

    1. Yeah, I have that book too… I think it’s getting increasingly more important to become aware of the Nature Deficit Disorder, and I’m so glad you (and others) are doing something about it!! That proves that there IS hope. 🙂

  5. I know that when I was living in the middle of London, I felt like the only thing keeping me sane was the fact that I was only 20-30 minutes walk from Hampstead Heath. Here in Auckland, I’m never far from the ocean, and the forest-clad hills are within driving distance in several directions if I need them. I don’t think I could handle living anywhere that I didn’t have access to those environments again…

  6. No… it’s hard to do without once you get used to being in and with nature. There are so many things we have forgotten about, but matters a great deal to us regardless. I hope we start remembering soon.

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