In a world of blue-light and overstimulation by unnatural elements, it can be uncomfortable to ponder our roots, how our lives have rapidly changed, and how the substantial consequences we may not have even fully discovered yet could be affecting us. Richard Louv established the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” in his 2008 book Last Child in the Woods, implying that a major cause for ADHD and ADD, especially in children is because of our disconnection from nature from childhood. Further research has indicated that not only could it be a stimulus for behavioral disorders, it is also linked to loss of senses, obesity, and higher rates of mental health disorders. I like to think of NDD as a symptom of our current lifestyle, a mournful manifestation of replacing sunshine with fluorescent lights and minimizing our time outside to a pitiful 7% of our lives on average.
The data to support this once outlandish concept has sense escalated to major research centers around the globe. According to Harvard Health, children with ADHD seem to focus better after being outdoors, one study found that children with ADHD scored higher on a test of concentration after a walk through a park than after a walk through a residential neighborhood or downtown area. This research was compelling, shooting the number of studies of the impact of nature experience on human development has grown from a handful to thousands in just the last 15 years. Nature-Deficit Disorder is not a medical term by any means, but like anything is worth exploring. What is a true medical term after all, as our practices and discoveries are ever-changing as we are?
What causes it?
According to Patricia Salber MD, MBA, the main reason is technological development, which I think comes down to time in the day as we catapult into a faster and faster world. As technology advances, so do the expectations to do more, and simply finding time to get outside can be challenging when we constantly feel behind in all other areas of life. It makes me question the capacity of us as humans, when will the line be drawn? When will we accept technology as a tool to allow more time for authentic experiences instead of using it as a tool to compress a week of work and screen time into an 8 hour workday? Other causes of NDD include the decrease in open spaces for children and adults to play, parental fear for children due to the increasingly negative news, and less appreciation of the natural world in general. These ideas help spur my own, the thought that connection to nature and its practices isn’t passed down generationally as it once was, leaving us with less knowledge, lexicon, and tactical skills than ever before.
Nature Knowledge Deficit
Another topic worth mentioning is NKD- an abbreviated term that translates to the fact that we simply don’t understand as much about the natural environment as we used to because we simply don’t see the need to practice it in our daily lives. We are so disconnected from our true history because it is difficult for our forward-thinking society to think back and imagine the rapid evolution of our dramatic shift from outdoors to indoors. “As biological beings, we are physiologically adapted to be in certain environments – to run, to play, to hunt, to be active basically,” says Dr. Cameron of the department of landscape at Sheffield University. Louv spells it out on his blog, “Although human beings have been urbanizing, and then moving indoors since the introduction of agriculture, social and technological changes in the past three decades have accelerated the human disconnect from the natural world.”
I see a lot of similarities between the lack of time spent outdoors in children, and the precipitous lifestyles of us adults, eyes anchored to our screens. I believe the best part of my identity is made up of the skinned knees, dirty jeans, and cold fingers that I experienced growing up, and I want nothing more than to hold onto this adventurous side and pass it along to my children one day. The often comfortless, rugged memories of childhood outside and the problem solving skills that derived from it are remain rooted in my daily life, allowing for more tenacity, convergent thinking, and curiosity.
Mr. Louv Himself says it best in his book, The Sense of Wonder, “There’s the issue just of wonder…That moment when you were three or four and went out into the backyard- maybe crawled out into the weeds and found a rock and turned it over and found that you were not alone in the universe…Or when you went out in the woods and just listened to the leaves move. That moment of wonder is the source of all spiritual growth. How can we cut that off? How can we cut children off from that source of wonder? “We’re in danger of doing that.”
If you spend hardly any time outdoors, just don’t feel right, have a loss of interest in most activities, or can’t do them without being on your phone, you might be experiencing NDD. What’s the solution? How can you move away and into better habits? The only answer is to spend more time outdoors. For a few ways to add nature back into your life, explore my article on how to make going outside a habit.
Get out there,