I’ve worked with hundreds of women with ADHD. In the years since my own ADHD diagnosis, it’s been a joy to discover common threads of interest like our shared love of nature – the underlying trait that has most captured my attention. Whether it’s a need for a daily dose of outdoor exercise, a visceral pull toward any body of water, or a general appreciation for all things green (and blue!), those of us with ADHD seem to intuitively know the benefits of nature, and that time in it is vital for our wellbeing.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that I’ve come across quite a few landscape gardeners, florists, and horticulturalists with ADHD. I also know many people who, eager to begin living life on their terms after receiving an ADHD diagnosis, relocated from the city to a more fitting rural or seaside location.
I’ve been drawn to nature all my life. There’s an embarrassing home video of me at age 11 dancing barefoot in my garden and singing about my love of flowers. For a good portion of my childhood, I grew up only a few minutes away from the ocean. To this day, my perfect morning begins with a barefoot walk on the beach, waves lapping away my anxious thoughts and ruminating worries.
Moments in nature – like taking a hike or grounding myself barefoot in the garden – are part of my daily well-being kit. I also make it a point to face my garden as I work from my office, as it calms me to look at the fractal patterns of the trees, plants, and leaves surrounding the pond (the latter was a spur-of-the-moment lockdown project). To combat my daily Zoom sessions, I schedule in a non-negotiable hour each day to disconnect from my devices and get some fresh air, rain or shine.
My kids (some of whom have ADHD) are happiest when visiting our local woods. Often, the only way to get them out of a temper tantrum is by bribing them with hot chocolate in the forest.
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ADHD’s seeming connection to nature, I imagine, comes from a constant need to calm our often overwhelmed and dysregulated nervous systems. Our ADHD brains and bodies crave more dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and endorphins than do neurotypicals brains, and green time might be one of the best ways to satisfy these cravings. Research confirms the benefits of green time in reducing ADHD symptoms1, but how do we realistically integrate it into our everyday lives?
How to Connect with Nature: 6 Simple Ways
Even if you live in a city where green spaces aren’t easily accessible, here are my tips to help you connect with nature:
1. Create an indoor plant garden. Research shows that indoor gardening is beneficial to mental and physical health.2 If you’re not sure where to begin, start small and get your hands dirty potting some small patio plants.
2. Walk barefoot over grass. It’s relaxing, and there might be something to making bodily contact with the Earth, or grounding. Small studies show a list of benefits associated with grounding, including stress reduction.3
[Read: Exercise and the ADHD Brain – the Neuroscience of Movement]
3. Hug a tree. Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku in Japanese, has huge health benefits and helps with our emotional well-being.4 The next time you walk through a park or a pathway of trees, try using all your senses to take in your surroundings. Touch the tree bark, notice the leaves, and take in nature’s fragrance.
4. Join a local hiking or walking club. You’ll make new friends, connect with other nature-lovers, and explore your local areas with a like-minded community. Going with a group will also help with accountability if going by yourself seems too daunting.
5. Take a bike ride (or rent a bike) and explore your local cycle paths and woodland areas.
6. Use local outdoor gyms. These gyms are available across many cities. Do some research and find the outdoor gym closest to you.
Benefits of Nature for ADHD Well-Being: Next Steps
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1 Thygesen, M., Engemann, K., Holst, G. J., Hansen, B., Geels, C., Brandt, J., Pedersen, C. B., & Dalsgaard, S. (2020). The Association between Residential Green Space in Childhood and Development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Population-Based Cohort Study. Environmental health perspectives, 128(12), 127011. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP6729
3 Chevalier, G., Sinatra, S. T., Oschman, J. L., Sokal, K., & Sokal, P. (2012). Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the Earth’s surface electrons. Journal of environmental and public health, 2012, 291541. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/291541
4 Wen, Y., Yan, Q., Pan, Y., Gu, X., & Liu, Y. (2019). Medical empirical research on forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku): a systematic review. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 24(1), 70. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12199-019-0822-8