Nature-Deficit Disorder: Why We Need to Go Outside and…

go outside and be part of nature

Nature-deficit disorder is a phrase once used only to describe the behavior problems of children who did not spend enough time outdoors.  Coined by Richard Louv, nature-deficit disorder is now referring to people of all ages who are disconnected from nature, spending inordinate amounts of time indoors; people deluged with information from computers, voicemail and multimedia.

Because we possess strong hunter-gatherer roots that still affect our brains and bodies, there is a serious clash going on within us between the modern world we exist in and the ancient tendencies we carry.  This mismatch underlines the fact that our brains are not suited for the modern world, are not prepared to deal with information and stimulation that does not have a direct relationship with the physical reality we inhabit.

Andrew Weil tackles this struggle in his latest book, Spontaneous Happiness.  He offers us some guidelines to mediate the problem, to help our “ancient brains and bodies” adapt and thus bring more happiness into our lives.

1. Though we can’t always control what happens to us, we can learn to control how we interpret events; this can help us learn to be more optimistic, feel better about ourselves.

2. To distract the mind from thought, mantra is the practice of silently repeating (in the “mind’s ear”) syllables or phrases. Mantra though often connected to religious practice, can serve as a purely secular method of diverting attention from the negative so as to reduce anxiety, anger, and stress. To create this tool, select a positive word or phrase and try repeating it to interrupt negative thinking.

3. Visualization can also help, determining the set point of our emotions like patterns of thought.  Two experiments in visualization: first, practice shifting attention from negative thoughts to mental pictures that evoke positive feelings; second, select an image of an actual place that made you feel content, happy, and serene; focus on that place when you feel sad, anxious, stressed, or gripped by negative thinking.

4. Neutralize or block out (with noise-cancelling headphones) disturbing sounds.  Listen to music or sounds that positively affect your moods like sounds of nature—rushing streams, bird songs, rain.  Or try to settle into silence.

5. When going to bed, sleep in complete darkness.  During the day go outside and be in bright sunlight as often as possible or while at work, sit by a window full of light.  This will help you balance the circadian rhythms that control sleeping and waking.

6. Develop your powers of attention and concentration by being more present to the moment.  Mindfulness training is an excellent way to develop this skill.

7. Take a break from the news, violent television and video games, encounters with toxic people.  Utilize a conscious control over what enters your mind, especially from media.

8. Information overload works against focused attention. Get away from the computer and the internet for a while.  Set limits on email and phone use too.

9. Humans need to be with other humans.  Reaching out to people whether friends or a stranger checking out your groceries increases social interaction and safeguards your emotional health.

10. No mater how your days shape up—busy or rather normal—try to get outside and walk or bike, read in the sun or sweep a sidewalk, look up at the sky or listen to the birds or the winter wind.  We all need to experience our natural environment and work against nature-deficit disorder.

Thanks to Chris and Alison’s Photostream

Dr. Andrew Weil