Nature Deficit Disorder. Ever heard of it? It’s a THING. Really. The definition of Nature Deficit Disorder is this; human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems. The term was coined in 2005 by Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods”. His point in the book is to bring to our attention the effect of the world we have created for ourselves.
We live in a world of concrete, fluorescent lighting, non-stop traffic, covered windows, vanishing species, grocery store food and produce. We can spend days, even weeks without ever really going outside. Our cars are parked in garages attached to our homes. We travel to and from home in them, and then get out and quickly enter another building for the remainder of the day. At the end of the day we hustle back to the car, drive home, and get inside as fast as we can. It is a daily ritual that robs us of the benefits of interacting with nature.
The number of children, in the US, who are on anti-anxiety drugs is astounding. Even children in the 0-5 group are being prescribed highly addictive meds for behavioral and anxiety issues. These children then develop into teens and adults who are unable to cope, unmedicated, in the world. These numbers are growing at a frightening pace. What are the underlying issues? And what are the potential solutions?
As a species, humans are uniquely designed to be both hunters and gatherers. Which means we can hunt AND grow our own food. This facet of our makeup puts a strong association with the natural world directly into our DNA. We are wired to be outside; tilling the soil, planting, tending, harvesting, and hunting our food. There is a necessary relationship between being outside creating food and our mental health. The connection is fascinating. When we walk barefoot on the earth we come in contact with negative ions that permeate our bodies and cause relaxation. The same effect happens when we are near running water. Being outside also exposes us to the colors of the earth, namely green. Green is a calm and serene color bringing peace and relaxation into the brain.
Concrete, electrical fields, computers, and TVs all block, or worse, emit, and cover us in positive ions. What is an ion? An ion is an atom with either a negative or positive charge. Negative ions soothe us and create health. Positive ions irritate us and promote dis-ease. When we are out in nature, especially barefoot, we are bathed in negative ions and the soothing exposure to shades of relaxing green. We need these ‘nature breaks’ to interrupt the damaging effects of modern life. Children, especially need these breaks.
Children’s health is particularly affected in a negative way by positive ion exposure. Children’s cells multiply faster than adult cells, so any intra-cellular damage is magnified. Children are much more sensitive to this damage than adults. Think of all the ‘hyper’ kids in our world. A big dose of nature is just the ticket to settle them down. Kids need to feel the dirt under their feet and the wind in their hair. They need to walk under big trees and lay in tall grass. They need to close their eyes and smell warmed grass and pine needles. They need to see first hand, the miracle of dry seeds put into the ground, which then explode into a frenzy of plant life with just a little water. They need to pick and eat something, anything, right off the vine. The very fiber of their being calls out for these opportunities, and if they don’t get these chances they suffer in many ways. Just look at the long list of anxiety disorder titles that kids today suffer from, and you will understand what I mean.
Nature breaks should be a daily occurrence for kids and adults alike. Take off the shoes and let Mother Nature soothe you with her ionic magic. Walk in the woods and feel the peace of the forest wrap around you. Lay next to the ocean and let the allure of the waves comfort your soul. Rx for you and your kids; Take your Vitamin Green!