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One of the reasons why nature-based education and ecotherapy are gaining popularity is because of the explosive rise in ADHD diagnoses in both children and adults in the last 2 decades.

Excessive screentime and periods of prolonged sitting are particularly toxic for someone with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and can easily lead to dysregulation of their more sensitive nervous systems.

Even if you don’t have a diagnosis of ADHD, the effects of chronic overstimulation of attention can lead to the chronic distractibility, restlessness and inattentiveness that are characteristic of the negative aspects of ADHD.

Psychologists are now calling this chronic state of distractibility that is becoming increasingly common today continuous partial attention. It is largely caused by our hyperconnected culture of all-day smartphone use where the average user:

1. Spends 4-5 hours a day on their phone
2. Pulls out their phone 5-10 times per hour
3. Unlocks their phone 100+ times per day
4. Looks at their phone first thing upon waking
5. Looks at their phone right before sleeping

Naturally, these activities will lead to information overload, overstimulation and attention fatigue for most heavy smartphone users.

But there’s a simple solution. Take more breaks where you can unplug and mindfully walk outside to recharge your attention span.

Research into Attention Restoration Theory (ART) has helped to understand how nature connection and ecotherapy are beneficial for improving focus and concentration in people suffering from negative symptoms of ADHD or continuous partial attention.

Stephen and Rachel Kaplan originally proposed Attention Restoration Theory in their 1989 book The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. From their research, they developed an ART process that helps restore attention by navigating through four different cognitive states:

1. A clearing of the head
2. Mental fatigue recovery
3. Soft fascination
4. Reflection

The first stage is characterized by the clearing of the mind. This can be done through a mindful walking practice where you let go of the thoughts and concerns on your mind by simply letting them flow through your mind like clouds drift through the sky.

In the second stage, you start to restore your attention after a focused task by allowing your attention to wander and this mind-wandering mode helps you to process the activity you’ve done and restore your attention span.

The third stage is similar to a meditative state, where you experience an increase in relaxing alpha brainwave activity and your awareness expands beyond a self-focus to a sense of soft fascination, which reduces internal chatter and creates a sense of spaciousness and presence that makes it easy to relax.

In the final stage, you can contemplate your experience and reflect on your life with a greater sense of discernment and acceptance.

Attention Restoration With Mindful Walking

When you take a mindful walk and ground yourself in your senses in the natural world, your attention becomes increasingly restored because of the lack of cognitive demand. In addition, the beauty and consistency of natural fractal patterns such as flowers, trees, rivers, mountains and plants evoke a sense of contemplative reflection and curiosity or fascination.

One notable study found that “green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.”

After a green ecotherapy session, symptoms of distractibility decreased and their ability to self-regulate and pay attention improved, including “remaining focused on unappealing tasks, finishing tasks, listening to and adhering to directions, and restraining oneself from distractions.”

Nature Deficit Disorder Affects Us All

Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods.

In the book, Louv writes that rapidly advancing technologies “are blurring the lines between humans, other animals, and machines. The postmodern notion that reality is only a construct– that we are what we program– suggests limitless human possibilities.” In trying to build technologies that will allow us to manipulate and control every aspect of our reality, Louv argues that “the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings [and] their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience.”

Ecotherapy practices like applying Attention Restoration Theory can help to reverse the negative effects of sedentary living that result in this kind of nature deficit disorder.

I recommend starting with a mindful walking practice, which you can learn about in my Ecotherapy Guide.

Kyle Pearce

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