It's long been known that interactions with the natural world can work wonders on our mental health. Whether it's a walk in the street or even just sitting down with a book in the park, being in the great outdoors provides our brain with all the good stuff it needs. But is there one component of nature that works the best of all? Recent studies seem to suggest that birds are the strongest cure of all. These British researchers say, "there is a time-lasting association between seeing or hearing birds and improved mental well-being." How did they conclude these results, and what could be behind the link? Here's what we know so far...
This groundbreaking study was conducted by gathering 1292 participants and asking them to monitor their bird exposure and mental well-being on a specialized app. Three times a day for two weeks, each participant was asked if they could see plants, trees, birds, the sky, or water. With each answer, they were then questioned on their mental state. By analyzing this data, they were able to decipher clear patterns that indicated a more significant mood improvement after bird interactions than any other aspect of nature.
Existing mental health conditions were taken into account from the start, and further findings were based on this. As noted in the published study, this general positive correlation was seen even in those with diagnosed depression. As of yet, explanations for this pattern are guesses at best. The study's leader, Ryan Hammoud, explained it could be down to how birds and nature as a whole help to decrease stress levels and reduce mental exhaustion. "We all do things that make us feel better, but there isn't a controlled trial. It's nice to see research to back up the effect of birds," praised psychologist Thea Gallagher.
The research team has expressed their hopes that this study will encourage people to increase their uptake of bird watching and reap the mental benefits as a result. "Focusing on birds can get us out of our ruminative thoughts and to a space where we can simply enjoy the moment," said psychologist Sheehan Fisher. Next time you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, Fisher recommends going for a walk or eating outside - you never know what birds you might see or hear!