Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed? Watch birds
Research shows that there is a disconnect between people and nature in urban settings, leading to anxiety, stress and mood disorders among people. Increased urbanised living and the resultant sedentary lifestyle have been contributing factors to mental health problems in countries around the world.
It makes sense then that a daily dose of nature is good for mental health, particularly for those who live in urban environments. However, which characteristics of nature provide these benefits?
Researchers from the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland proposed one possibility, which is that the greatest benefits would be provided by characteristics that are visible during the day and are most likely to be experienced by people.
Evidence suggests that the availability and quality of neighbourhood green spaces are associated with greater well-being.The researchers analysed data from 263 people who participated in an urban lifestyle questionnaire online. The participants lived within the urban limits of “Cranfield triangle”, which is a region in southern England. The questionnaire was delivered in May 2014 when the weather was mild and participants were most likely to engage with nature.
The findings were significant and found that people who were able to see birds, shrubs and trees around their home – whether they lived in urban areas or more leafy suburban neighbourhoods – showed reduced symptoms of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress.
The study, which surveyed people with different ages, incomes and ethnicities, found that those who spent less time outdoors than usual the previous week were more likely to be depressed and anxious.
The study also found, after an extensive survey of the birds in the region, that people who saw birds in the afternoon reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress. The scientists found that the number of birds in the afternoon tends to be lower than those in the morning but afternoon birds are more likely to be seen on a daily basis in their neighbourhood.
Many common types of birds such as blackbirds, robins, blue tits and crows were seen during the study but there was no relationship between the type of bird and mental health. Rather, the number of birds that could be seen from the window, in the garden or in the neighbourhood is what made a difference to mental health in the surveyed participants.
There was a positive association between birds, shrubs and trees and better mental health even after other variables were controlled such as variation in household income, age and other socio-demographic factors.
This research shows that the presence of birds around the home and neighbourhood is an important factor in preventive mental health, which can make cities and urban places healthier and happier places to live.
Immersing yourself in nature is a very healing experience. Even though you may live in an urban environment, having trees and shrubs around you can calm your mind. And, now that research shows how impactful it can be for your mental health and wellbeing, indulging in a spot of bird watching is yet another way to connect with nature and reap its benefits.