Depression Part 3: Enjoy Nature


This is Part Three of a series dealing with depression in which we will explore a variety of lifestyle changes that can help combat the effects of depression; these changes include exercise, exposure to sunlight, better diet and sleep, and social and environmental connections. Part Three focuses on the benefits of spending time outdoors enjoying nature.

Part 3: Nature Deficit Disorder

Do you ever feel that you'll just go crazy if you don't get outside for a breath of fresh air? Or maybe you crave a walk in the park surrounded by rustling trees and green grass or a stroll by the ocean listening to the incoming tide and the crying gulls?

You might be suffering from NDD: Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by writer Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods. He describes NDD as "the human cost of alienation from nature, among them diminished use of senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illness." Basically, suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder means we've lost our connection to the great outdoors.

Don't think it is legitimate? Consider Louv's suggestion that "We're raising the very first generation of Americans to grow up disconnected with nature and this broken relationship is making kids overweight, depressed and distracted."

"You can blame technology, but behind every screen-dominant upbringing is an overly cautious parent," says New York Times writer Timothy Egan. Parents live in fear that the woods are teeming with Lyme-disease-riddled ticks, tree limbs about to crash down and bad people lying in wait to kidnap our kids. And while there is nothing wrong with being a responsible, attentive parent, it appears things are out of balance.

And it's not just our kids. All ages are suffering from NDD. When was the last time you spent any significant time walking in the woods or at a park with your family or friends? If you are of a certain age, you can remember summer days playing outside all day. Now, most likely, you find yourself spending most, if not all, of your day indoors. Of course our jobs may dictate our workdays be spent indoors, but there are ways to repair our broken connection to nature and, in the process, heal ourselves physically and emotionally.

"But there is an obvious solution-just outside the window," says Egan. "For most of human history, people chased things or were chased themselves. They turned dirt over and planted seeds and saplings. They took in Vitamin D from the sun, and learned to tell a crow from a raven. And then, in less than a generation's time, millions of people completely decoupled themselves from nature."

What to do? Parents should set limits for time spent on electronic devices, and stick to those limits-for their kids and themselves. Then parents should get outside with their kids. There is safety in numbers so get outside as a group and use preventative methods to ward off the bugs.

Author George Ambrose, a nationally certified environmental educator, states: "Parents who want to spend quality time with their children enjoying the outdoors need go no further than their front or back yard or to the public park down the street. A space as small as a crack in the sidewalk can be used for learning about plants, bugs, weeds, and other living things. You do not need to be an expert to point out ants, bees, dandelions, and daisies, or to distinguish between a pine tree and a maple. There are many ways to share your love and enthusiasm for the outdoors with children at all ages."

Dr. Andrew Weil, physician and world-renowned leader in the field of integrative medicine, says: "As part of our evolutionary heritage, human beings - both children and adults - have a profound need for time in wild, outdoor spaces, and we suffer when we don't get it… I see much evidence that nature deprivation is a major driver of many negative psychological trends, including the modern epidemic of depression."

In his Introduction to Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv says: "A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest-but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move." Louv co-founded the Children and Nature Network which is dedicated to connecting children (and all of us) to nature, and offers tools to help us all reconnect with nature from organizing outdoor adventure clubs to directions on making a woodland elf house out of sticks, rocks and pinecones gathered from outside.

So get outside whether it is to take a walk, feed the birds, collect fallen leaves or build a snowman. If parents invest in respecting and preserving nature, most likely so will their kids. The key to overcoming NDD is to recognize and celebrate the importance of our environment as well as the part of ourselves that thrives on our connection to nature.

-Cathy Cairns, WYFS Admin. Asst.


Works Cited