You wake up in the morning. You look at your phone, check Facebook on a shiny white screen as you contemplate getting up. You hurriedly get ready for work, rush out the door thinking about what you might have forgotten that morning and get in your car. On the way to work you already feel anxiety about the day ahead, making a mental list of the five things you absolutely must get done that morning. You don’t get them done. You eat lunch at your desk. You get off work late and decide to just pick up some food on the way home. You eat dinner, watch TV, and go to sleep so you’re rested to do the whole thing again the next day.
This is a pretty bleak picture, and hopefully most of you are able to at least get outside a car or building for more than thirty seconds a day. Maybe you run outside on your lunch break or walk your dog when you get home from work. It might just be thirty minutes, but at least it’s something.
Unfortunately, even that might not be enough to combat “nature deficit disorder,” a phrase coined by author Richard Louv. It was almost ten years ago that he used the phrase to describe a phenomenon occurring in modern children who spend more time indoors than any children to have come before them. While most of what you read from Louv is about children, adults suffer from many of the same issues and Louv even covers them in his book The Nature Principle.
Just a few issues that arise in adults who are disconnected from nature are more frequent illness, depression, and feelings of lethargy. Studies show that spending just twenty minutes a day in nature can increase vitality in adults (link to study). Twenty minutes might not sound like a lot, but for the person in the scenario at the beginning of this post it might be nearly impossible to find.
Here are a few ways to combat nature deficit disorder:
- Exercise outside whenever possible. Running, walking, and biking are a few common exercises people do outside, but have you ever considered doing yoga in the park? How about taking your strength training routine to the jungle gym? Exercise is great for the body but many of us also do it for the mind benefits. A 2008 Scottish Health Survey found that exercising outdoors had a 50 percent greater effect on mental health, meaning you’ll get a double whammy for your health next time you exercise outside.
- Practice remembering names. Pick one thing you enjoy observing in nature. It could be trees, flowers, birds, insects or anything else. Every week, or every month try to learn the name of a new specimen. As you learn more about the world around you, you’ll find that going for a walk becomes a lot less about working out and a lot more about greeting old friends.
- Carve out time for nature when you’re traveling. Most of us enjoy seeing some aspect of nature when we are on vacation. You might be a beach bum or a bona fide mountain climber, but chances are you’re spending at least a little bit more time outside on vacation. What about work travel though? If you’re like most you end up spending a lot of time in the hotel room and on transportation. Being inside so much and the stresses of travel put you at higher risk for becoming sick, which you can combat by carving out a little outdoors time on your business travel.
- Situate your desk in front of a window. You might not be able to control where you sit at work, but at home you can make sure there is plenty of inviting seating right in front of a window. You might be inside, but if you’re by the window you’re more likely to look out the window and observe a little bit of nature.
- Make spending time with those you love mean spending time outside. Rather than doing the same “going out for dinner and drinks” routine with your friends or “Sunday brunch at the diner” with your family consider planning a walk in the woods or a day trip to the local park or preserve. As you plan nature outings more often they will become as routine as your normal indoor hang outs.
The best way to combat nature deficit disorder is to make it a priority. Hopefully you are already focused and committed to eating healthy, getting regular exercise, and educating yourself. It’s important to give your mental health the same consideration and commit to giving yourself time in nature.