Don’t just stop and smell the roses — sit and feed the birds. According to new research, bird watching could lead to better mental health. In fact, just a short time spent in natural surroundings can greatly reduce reports of anxiety and depression.
The University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology, and the University of Queensland conducted a study on the effects that bird watching and being surrounded by shrubs and greenery could have on the mental health of an individual. What they found was that people who lived in neighborhoods that had greater amounts of birds and foliage were much less likely to report being depressed or anxious.
Over 200 people participated in the research, coming from large varieties of income, social status, race and age. These people reported on their mental health throughout the study, and their neighborhoods were observed to find out how many birds were generally seen throughout the day. The results showed that people who saw more birds and spent more time outdoors reported better levels of mental health, primarily in depression and anxiety symptoms.
In addition, the study found that if people spent less time outside one week than they did the week before, they were more likely to report that they were depressed or had anxious thoughts.
There were several types of birds observed by the participants, the most common of which being blackbirds, robins and crows. However, there was no direct correlation between the type of bird seen and the effect that it had on the individual. Instead, it was found that the number of birds played a role, as well as the time of day that the birds were seen.
Extensive surveys and observation showed that the more birds were seen in the afternoon, the more positive the report. If the participants spotted birds through their window, in their neighborhood, or while they were out during the afternoon, they generally seemed happier and healthier.
“This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being,” said Dr. Daniel Cox, lead researcher of the study. “Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”
Other studies have suggested the importance of nature as a way to promote mental health and reduce symptoms of mental illness. In fact, Stanford researchers have shown that walking for 90 minutes in a natural setting or wooded area decreases activity in the part of the brain that causes depression. It is in urban settings and the absence of nature that people are more likely to develop mental issues or to report a likelihood of mental illness.
The simple act of taking an afternoon break to observe nature, or working near a window through which trees and birds can be seen, can make a huge difference in mental health. It is important for offices and homes to allow natural light to enter in order to increase productivity and promote mental health.