Q&A - Dr Ruth Allen - The Mind Map
By Tess Leigh-Phillips

Q&A – Dr Ruth Allen

Most people live in the top triangle of their bodies.

Published 18/03/2021
“It became essential for me to go back in nature and reconnect with the innate love buried by the pressures of life.”

In her book Grounded, Psychotherapist Dr Ruth Allen wants to show us how nature can help us connect with our inner landscape.

Reflecting on nature’s unknowable and mysterious qualities, Grounded explores how we can therapeutically benefit from a deeper connection with nature, finding within it balance, solitude, stillness, resilience, activity, contentment, fearlessness – and our own wild voice.

Hello Ruth, what instigated your love for nature?  

Well, I remember being in the garden and talking to animals when I was young. And then you get older, and it’s not the done thing to talk to animals anymore!

There’s often pressures around you to be a certain way as you grow up

So I think I left that love of nature behind for a bit.

Then later I thought, oh, well I’ve tried being like everybody else my age and I don’t fit there.

So why don’t I just go back to my true self!

The more adventurous side has come sort of post university really, when I started my PhD in geology.

I was 39 last Saturday, and I still feel like I’m on the upward trajectory!

Yes, I get that. I think late starters are the best.

Yes, definitely.

And I think it’s really important to hear that it’s possible to do anything at any age.

So now you feel you are true to yourself?

Who you see on social media, who you see in therapy, who you see in the book – it’s just me.

Did you always have in mind that you were going to use nature in your therapy?

Yes. Combining my love of the outdoors, my love of people.

What do you think about the state of mental health at the moment in the UK?

I feel like the fragments of trauma from this time are going to land progressively over the next few years.

And that there’s going to be many people who’ve been affected by this period.

They haven’t had a chance yet to account for the losses they’ve experienced and the changes in their lives.

The stress of things like homeschooling and working and lack of money coming in.

Mental health services are so desperately needed.

What benefits do you see for people when they experience nature? 

There’s the physiological background benefit of it.

There’s lots of evidence around the impact on things like immune system.

Also, having that non judgmental space, the time and space to just be with yourself.

There’s a lot of benefits to things like technology but we need to restore our attention.

We’re hyper-connected, too much colour, too much saturation, too much stuff going around!

Tell us about the exercises you teach in your book helping people to reconnect to nature and themselves?

Yes. it’s about, hey, leave your front door and tune in to how you’re doing, how you feel.

Take the space, take the time, focus on your breathing.

You can do that anywhere.

I know that our spaces are very urban and are very nature depleted, but we have to work with what we have.

We can’t stay trapped in that narrative of ” I’ve got nothing around me.”

Do you think that connection you have to nature helps you develop the connection to yourself?

I do. I think we somehow find ourselves outside in nature.

Nature doesn’t discriminate. It just is.

It comes, and goes, and it overturns, goes in cycles and it doesn’t have a sense of the hierarchies we play.

Beautiful simplicity! What do you feel about social media?

I think it’s got a lot of potential, but we end up very anxious about it.

I think we are generally a very anxious species, very cognitive.

We worry a lot.

We’re not used to speaking to so many people!

How do you cope with a gaze of hundreds or thousands of people, who are liking you or not liking you.

You can’t help us sort of get sucked into that.

Social media can grab you and pull you in, until you’re just pleasing the crowd.

You have to ultimately come to a place within yourself, where you can say I’m using this just to connect, just as a tool.

I’m not going to invest my whole self worth in it.

What do you say to someone reading this now who doesn’t feel good enough?

I want to know what is it that left you feeling not good enough?

I’d want to sit down and find out. Maybe it’s a journal prompt, start writing it all down?

Try and unpick where the damage started.

Get outside and find solace, find reassurance, find quiet.

Push yourself a little bit.

Ultimately we have to go places and do things and spend time with people who help us feel good about ourselves.

Ask the question, what has left me feeling unworthy?

Ask that question when you’re out walking.

Notice how differently you feel when you’re out in the fresh air and moving your body.

Yes, the mind body connection? It’s so important isn’t it?

Most people live in the top triangle of their bodies.

We’re actually a really powerful combination between brain and body.

It’s thought now that maybe 80% of what we feel comes from our body, for example, from our nervous system, endocrine system, gut, organs.

Anxiety, it’s really a condition that lives in the body.

It’s not primarily just having anxious thoughts.

If just changing your thoughts works, we all would have done it by now.

We have to know how to calm down an anxious body.

We have to know how to mobilise a depressed body.

How we stand, how we carry ourselves, how we care for our bodies.

It really changes how we feel about ourselves, because it’s sending a different message.

Also, I’ve never gone outside into nature and thought I feel worse now.

So, the message of Grounded, get out and about!?

Yes, just go out and try and be curious.

Be curious about what’s happening in your own head, your own body, outside in the world.

Who else is going to be as a curious about YOU, except maybe a therapist!

It’s your life, it’s your health. What’s going on in your body?

Connecting with this is going to improve your experience of being alive in the world.

Grounded – How connection with nature can improve our mental and physical wellbeing, is out now and published by Welbeck Balance.