It’s a familiar feeling; edgy, uncomfortable and a little angry. From a spilt cup of coffee to the driver that cuts me off, it feels like nothing is going right. My shoulders tense up, so that they rest closer to my ears than is healthy. I’m cranky, impatient, clumsy. I know exactly what is wrong and I’ve known this about myself for a long time; I get very disorderly when I have a deficit of nature time.
Richard Louv coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods and continued the concept in The Nature Principle. His thesis is that without unstructured time spent in nature, humans become prone to various behavior disorders, e.g. depression, ADD, anxiety. Louv is quick to point out that Nature-Deficit Disorder is not a medical diagnosis; however, many psychologists now recognize the importance of interactions with nature on our well being. Steve Taylor, author of Waking from Sleep, relays the findings of a UK research team that a simple walk in a park or greenspace was enough to lift the mood of study participants. There is much anecdotal evidence to lend support to the notion that nature heals and some researchers are now working to add scientific credence to nature therapies. Danielle F. Shanahan, leads a research group that is working to put a number on the optimum “nature dose” city dwellers require to have a positive impact on health. The group’s findings will be published in the June edition of BioScience. We may well soon have a recommended daily allowance of nature time in addition to vitamins and minerals. Programs such as Project Healing Waters and Veterans Expeditions that connect veterans with nature experiences have shown much success in aiding those dealing with PTSD.
The Japanese have a lovely practice known as Shinrin-yoku, which means “forest bathing”. This practice, backed by scientific studies, is simply walking, gently, in a forested area as a means of reducing stress and improving health. It is not meant as a workout; it is a stroll, resting when you feel like it and drinking plenty of water. Spending a couple of hours is ideal, but spend whatever time you can taking in the various smells, colors, sounds, textures of a natural place. Touch the bark of various trees, how does it feel? Listen for different birdsongs, how many distinct songs can you hear? Dr. Qing Li, of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, has run experiments that suggest this simple act of wandering in a natural space leads to reduced stress hormones and increases lymphocytes known as natural killer (or NK) cells in our bodies which may lead to increased immunity. The take-away: go outside, it’s good for you!
When was the last time you stood in a park, a field, on a trail, and took a real deep breath? When did you last dig in the dirt? Or pick up a rock just to see what was under it? When was the last time you went for a walk or a hike with no real destination? Here’s an idea. Go outside and find a tree. Investigate its bark, see and feel the texture. Don’t think about your never-ending to-do list, it can wait 10 minutes. Put your nose against the bark and sniff. Did you know that the bark of the Ponderosa Pine smells like vanilla, especially when warmed by the sun? Step back and look at your tree’s leaves or needles and take a deep breath. You have a very intimate relationship with this organism! Through the process of photosynthesis, the two of you are exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide and you can’t live without each other. Go on, it’s OK; give your tree a hug.
Connecting with nature and relieving some nature-deficit disorder doesn’t require hiking the Appalachian Trail or backpacking deep in the wilderness. (Although, if you can pull either of those off, all the better!) Bringing a bit of nature into your daily life can be a walk in your local park, having your morning coffee in your backyard, going to your local botanical garden, or a container of flowers on your apartment’s patio. If you have the means, you can create a sanctuary in your yard for both yourself and wildlife. The key is to take a little time, step away from the screen, and get back to the dirt.
The steady beat of my feet on the trail, increased heart rate and breathing but only due to exertion, not frustration. Breathing in, I smell the dirt and the trees. Being quiet, I hear birds going about their business. I see textures in leaves and bark. Ah, there it is. My shoulders drop back down to a normal position, my back straightens, and my heart center opens. Breathe in, breathe out, let go, and peace replaces disorder.
Resources and readings:
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle. Website: http://richardlouv.com/
Could a dose of nature be just what the doctor ordered? http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150408124616.htm
From the psychological perspective:
The Power of Nature: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/out-the-darkness/201204/the-power-nature-ecotherapy-and-awakening
Written by Urban Conversion contributor, Grace Carter. April 2015