Nature deficit disorder: do you have it?
Nature deficit disorder is a condition first described by author Richard Louv in his book ‘Last Child in The Woods’.
It’s not a medical disorder – though medics are in agreement with many of its findings. In a nutshell, Louv argues that the reduced exposure to nature in our lives over the past 40 years, caused by more sedentary lifestyles, increased traffic, fear for children’s safety and the pull of technology, has had deeply negative effects on our wellbeing. And that applies to both children and adults.
Louv argues that the effects of nature deficit disorder are damaging to our mental and physical health, as well as weakening our relationship with the natural world.
Here are some signs that our society is experiencing nature deficit disorder:
- Increased depression and attention-deficit levels: a growing body of research correlates depression and low attention span with less time spent in nature
- Increased obesity: we are just not outdoors as often and our bodies aren’t being moved as much as they used to be
- Mental fatigue: our brains get over-stimulated by noisy, busy modern environments but find the space and peace of being outdoors in a natural environment restorative
- Lack of creativity: the natural world doesn’t come with a manual. Giving children the opportunity to play however the whim takes them leads to creative thinking in other areas of their lives
- Lack of risk-taking: the natural world gives us the opportunities to push ourselves, explore and try new things. Falling over, and getting things wrong is a key step in developing resilience and decision-making skills.
So, how does Louv suggest we strengthen our relationship with nature, and experience the positive effects that follow? He argues that technology isn’t the enemy, but that just as we are building technology into our lives for work, play and practical purposes, we should make the effort to do the same with nature.
Here are some examples of how to bring nature back into everyday life:
Given the opportunity for indoor or outdoor play, pick outside as much as you can. It doesn’t have to be wild, being in a park or tree-lined street is also helpful
Bring nature in
Grow herbs on a windowsill, look after houseplants or let kids have an area where natural treasures (sticks, daisies, leaves etc) can sit indoors.
Don’t jump in
If you can see that the puddle’s too wide to jump over or that the muddy slope is too steep for little legs, don’t jump in straight away. It’s only mud. Let children have a go, find out for themselves what they can do (they may surprise you!) and be on-hand to help.
Notice the beauty (mindfulness)
Point out the range of colours on the snail shell, the tiny veins running through leaves, or the shape of the twigs. Children are often experts at noticing things adults miss anyway, but this is an opportunity to go slow together and appreciate what the ordinary, natural world has to offer.
Going out the house does take more effort than putting on the TV, it’s simply a fact of modern life. So if you want nature to be a priority, you have to make space for it. See when you can fit outdoors time into your daily or weekly routines so it becomes a habit.