Our modern lifestyles differ greatly from what they did just fifty or one hundred years ago. It seems as though we find ourselves constantly surrounded by concrete, cooped up in office buildings, and not doing much else except sitting in chairs. This type of continued lack of exposure to nature is causing some experts to ask the question, what is nature deficit disorder and how does it impacting our health?
This term was coined by a researcher named Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Wood. He asserts that the term is not meant to be considered a medical issue but rather an effect that is seen from modern living. He also described it as the alienation that many humans now have from the natural world. This is an interesting topic because he postulates that because children and adults spend less time outdoors, there is a higher rate of behavioral and mental issues that arise.
It’s true that people are spending less and less time outdoors. All you have to do is observe how much time adults spend in front of computer screens during work only to come home and sit in front of a television screen for hours before they go to sleep. Many of us are guilty of this but there may be farther reaching effects that encompass more of our health than we care to admit.
Barely Moving: Sedentary Lifestyles
A somewhat frightening statistic that came out recently is that, according to a Nielsen Company Audience Report, the average American devotes ten hours and thirty-nine minutes each day looking at a screen. There is so much consumption of media that people don’t even have time to look at what’s around them. When looked at from this perspective, it’s not difficult to see why someone would raise awareness as to what nature deficit disorder is.
There is a large segment of the population that works behind desks these days. When you think about the progression of what could be considered an average day, there really is a lot of sitting down. Many people get out of bed, get ready to go to work, and maybe eat a little breakfast to start their days. From that point, they sit in a car to drive to an office where they again sit down for much of the remaining work day. This type of behavior becomes exhausting even though it doesn’t provide the body with enough activity to maintain health.
Once we get home from a long day at the office, we’re usually tired and sit down to watch some TV before bed. Are you seeing the trend here? There isn’t really any time that is spent moving around. Our minds are going a mile a minute, but our bodies aren’t doing much of anything at all: https://www.drlam.com/articles/adrenal_fatigue.asp. The purpose here isn’t to bore you with statistics but the average American sits for eleven hours per day. That’s a lot of sitting when you consider the fact that sleeping takes about seven hours. That only leaves you with six hours when you’re not sitting or sleeping.
The contribution that these types of habits have on our health is astounding. Not only are we disconnected from nature more than ever, it’s almost as if we’re disconnected from our bodies because we barely use them anymore. Some people don’t have a choice and there isn’t always an option to control your work environment to suit your physical needs so that means the extra time out of the office needs to be used as wisely as possible to recover what is lost.
Returning to the Outdoors
We’ve never been more disconnected from the natural world around us as we are in the modern age. When the most interaction you have with nature comes from the Discovery Channel then you need to ask yourself what you can change.
During most of human history, our evolution and adaptation revolved around being outside as hunters and gatherers. Only recently have we changed to spending most of our time inside. Seventy-five percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, limiting exposure to the natural environments that we are adapted to.
Nature deficit disorder is also associated with an increased fear and phobia of the outdoors, decreased the ability to cope with stress, and decreased self-esteem. All of these things are clearly better to limit when possible – which is why it’s best to get back to nature if you can.
Bringing plants into your workspace can be a good start, especially when you are secluded from a natural setting at your job. Aside from allergies which do affect some people, there are plants which will survive even the cruelest owners so there is something that you will be able to keep alive at the office. It doesn’t need to be something that you take to the extreme, just a plant or two at your desk can promote a calming effect when working long hours away from the outdoors.
Aside from something at the workplace, there are many of us that do not live too far from proper outdoor areas that are full of plant life. This is not a suggestion that everyone goes camping to return to nature but that is definitely not discouraged. If you manage to get outside and take a walk through a park or, better yet, through a forest near where you live, it will do wonders for your emotional and physical well-being.
The stimulation of seeing things in an uncontrolled environment is therapeutic and relaxing. There have been studies that show how spending time in nature actually allows the prefrontal cortex of the brain to relax and seemingly rest a bit. The prefrontal cortex is the portion of the brain that is basically the command center, having a large impact on conceptual thinking and attention. What nature deficit disorder is doing overtime disallows cognitive relaxation which results in tiredness and brain fog.
What is Nature Deficit Disorder Doing to Our Minds?
It has been largely accepted by psychologists that the amount of attention and concentration capacity we have at our disposal is not endless. Throughout the day these levels slowly deplete as we go about our work and other tasks that demand our cognitive attention.
There are two separate types of attention which our brains engage in, the first being directed attention. When we are using directed attention, we are focusing on the processing of specific stimuli while at the same time filtering out other surrounding physical and emotional distractions. As we go through this from the moment we get in the car to go to work and then all day until we arrive back home, it becomes exhausting to the brain.
The second type of attention is referred to as effortless attention. This type of attention is what we experience when we are looking at a sunset or beautiful scenery. Even though there are still stimuli passing in front of us in the form of birds, or other wildlife, it comes in a non-threatening form. This has a restorative effect on the parts of the brain which are drained during directed attention. This recharge is necessary to combat the effects of what nature deficit disorder is doing to the brain in an ongoing fashion.
An example of the therapeutic aspects of exposure to nature and combating nature deficit disorder is what was shown by Stanford researcher Gregory Bratman when he examined nursing home patients. During the observations, nursing home residents who were suffering from dementia showed improved mobility after spending time in a garden. Interestingly enough, even hospital patients who had green views from their rooms also experienced faster recovery from surgeries. This mental improvement is astounding because of the fact that it seems to transform into physical improvement as well. There doesn’t seem to be any replacement for the introduction of natural scenery when considered in the mental health perspective.