Why Nature Can Help You With Your ADHD
by Catherine Morris | October 21, 2020, updated about 1 month ago
What do business magnate Richard Branson, surrealist painter Salvador Dali, and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps have in common? They might all be on your fantasy dinner party guest list, but that's not it. They all have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
It's not uncommon for people with ADHD to become leaders in their field. In fact, one study from the UK discovered that people carrying the genes associated with ADHD were more likely to become entrepreneurs.
People with ADHD have brains different from the norm, and are viewed as neuroatypical. While this comes with some major bonuses, it has its drawbacks as well—the core symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. On the flip side, ADHD brains can also be hyper-focused and productive, creative, energetic, and inventive.
The challenge of being neuroatypical in a neurotypical world is finding ways to lean into the strengths while managing some of the less favourable characteristics. When it comes to the latter, the answer might be closer than you think—perhaps right outside your front door.
What is ADHD?
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is a poorly understood condition, affecting 4 percent of adults and 5 percent of kids worldwide, according to the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada. Science is not settled on where ADHD comes from. There does appear to be a genetic component, but lifestyle factors such as maternal health also have an impact.
For kids, an ADHD diagnosis can mean difficulties in the classroom. It can be a struggle to sit still, pay attention, and follow directions when your brain is going in what feels like a million different directions. Adults face similar obstacles in the workplace, and all ages often experience social isolation, depression, relationship issues, and anxiety as a result.
ADHD treatment plans vary with most using a combination of natural and pharmaceutical interventions, ranging from diet and exercise to medication. Therapy also has a key role to play, giving people with ADHD brains the tools they need to function in a world that doesn't always recognize or make allowances for them. Daily life and all its various responsibilities are hard enough without the added discomfort of feeling like you don't fit in, but talking to an experienced counsellor or therapist can help.
How Nature Therapy Can Help
When life becomes overwhelming, as it so often does, sometimes the best remedy is to head outdoors and check in with mother nature, because she’s a pretty good therapist. Nature is a known anxiety-reliever, lowering our stress hormones in just 20 minutes.
For people with ADHD, the effects are even more acute.
In a 2004 study run by the University of Illinois, ADHD kids aged 5 to 18 showed a significant reduction in symptoms like hyperactivity and inability to focus, when playing in green outdoor spaces. The results were so compelling that researchers suggested parents make time for an afternoon 'green play break' to help their kids sleep better, and consider regular nature activities for those children who don't respond well to medication or who experience unpleasant side effects.
So, why did green spaces help? It's not just a case of letting kids burn themselves out—urban settings such as cement play parks didn’t see the same benefits as grassy areas in the study.
People with ADHD often have a tough time with prolonged periods of direct attention, and nature doesn't demand rigid attention. Instead, it gently engages as you roam around noticing the little details of the landscape. It's not just about getting a break, but about having a restorative and recharging experience—something that's just as important for adults with ADHD as kids.
Nature therapy can also help ADHD brains maximise their innate creativity, as greenery is known to stimulate mindfulness, imagination and inspiration.
How to Get More Nature in Your Life
We're not all lucky enough to live within reach of the wilderness. Trips to the mountains, coast or lakes are great for a summer vacation but may be an unrealistic option for daily treatment. So what if you have ADHD but no nature in your neighbourhood?
It's not ideal, but simply viewing pictures of nature can produce the same stress-lowering response as actually being outdoors, because your nervous system responds in the same way. There are also exciting new developments that hint at more virtual reality health applications in the future, allowing people stranded in urban concrete jungles to get a fully immersive nature experience from the comfort of their couch.
It's worth bearing in mind that nature doesn't have to mean sweeping expanses of meadows or mountains, rather, strolling down a tree-lined city street helps balance mood. Every city has its parks and trees, so even those without backyards can enjoy a quick dose of nature as part of their day.
If you want to talk to a trained mental health professional about ADHD, or any mental health issue, Which Doctor can help. Browse our extensive network of therapists and counsellors to make an in-person appointment, phone consultation or online session today.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.