Do We All Have Nature Deficit Disorder?

In Norwegian there’s the concept of friluftsliv: literally, ‘open air life’, or the culture of spending your free time outdoors in nature. There’s no pithy phrase for this in English, so perhaps that’s why we’ve become so bad at it. Tellingly, there is a term for the opposite condition: nature deficit disorder.

Named by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, nature deficit disorder is the consequence of losing touch with the natural world. Louv cites this estrangement as an underlying cause for common first-world ills like childhood obesity and depression.

It sounds far-fetched to make the lack of nature in your life into a medical-sounding condition, but Louv could have a point. I was never more removed from nature than when studying it academically, and I’ve never felt more ill than during that time. Plus, I’ve heard amazing stories from friends of friends about improved eyesight after long periods spent outdoors, and I believe there’s even some research to support the phenomenon.

This is why fun challenges like 30 Days Wild are important. They give us all a much-needed push to get out and renew our relationship with nature. Yesterday I discovered that this is possible even when you have a jam-packed work and commuting schedule. Since then I’ve been having a think, and I’ve come up with a few different themes for my wild walks. I may end up walking the same route many times throughout the month, so I want to try and mix things up a bit with different themes. I offer them to you to try as well.

Engage Your Senses

The real trick to communing with nature is to engage the senses. Going barefoot might not work so well on the cold, windy days we’re having at the moment, but there are other things to try. Simply listening to the sounds around you can be profound: trees swish, birds vocalise, fish and amphibians splosh. And feeling rough tree bark against your knees as you try to photograph camera-shy ants makes quite an impression (in your knees, if nowhere else).

Use Your Camera

If you can’t bear to go anywhere without your smart phone, this is the theme for you. Whenever you’re out and about and happen to see any wildlife, photograph it. The real joy of this little project comes when you adopt a broad definition of ‘wildlife’: see that tiny daisy struggling through a crack in the concrete? It’s wildlife. Before you know it you’ll have enough photos of nature to make yourself a nature picture gallery.

Sharpen Your Identification Skills

Learning to identify different species builds a special relationship with wild plants, animals and fungi. It’s satisfying and fun: pick a different organism each month and set yourself the task of cataloguing every specimen in your locality. If you’re a nomenclatural novice go with trees, which are large and stay still. For a real challenge, pick insects: they’re fast-moving and plenty of species have not yet been named. I must confess that I’m rubbish at identification, so with the help of social media I hope to get better throughout the month.

Become a Researcher

Ever wondered why some trees lose their leaves in winter and others don’t? Whatever your age or level of formal education, if you ask questions you’ve got what it takes to be a researcher. Start by looking for answers to your specific queries, or pick a plant, animal or fungus in your neighborhood and build up a dossier on it, illustrated by your own photographs.

Get to Know Your Local Birds

Ever hear about the 8 year old girl who started to feed some crows, and became the recipient of their gifts? Forget all those wisecracks about bird brains: birds have a keen intelligence and sophisticated social skills. So make their hard lives a little easier by feeding them and they may repay the favour in surprising ways, not least by amusing you for hours on end with their antics.

Between the pressures of work and the day-to-day hustle of family life, it’s easy to overlook the importance of spending time in nature. But as I re-discovered yesterday, you don’t have to journey into the wilderness to cure your nature deficit disorder. An appreciation of the wild things on your doorstep can be just as rewarding, and is certainly much cheaper. 30 Days Wild gives us all the chance to see how it feels to live more closely with nature for a month.