There has been a ton of recent advancement on the importance of having conversations about mental health, especially among men. But, I still find it challenging to type these words: I’ve had on and off struggles with generalized anxiety for much of my life.
My hands are sweaty leaving imprints on my laptop as I typed that.
People likely wouldn’t guess on the surface that I deal with this when they talk to me. I really enjoy speaking to others and pride myself on being cheerful and optimistic. I’ve done a handful of TV interviews without breaking down in nerves and I’m proud of the work I do as a public relations professional.
But, my hands are constantly sweaty in public. I’m wired to be self-critical and to worry. I had anxiety that peaked several years that I constantly checked into urgent care convinced I was dying or had a variety of horrible things wrong with me. Grade-A hypochondriac stuff. I also struggle with nightmares on a semi-regular basis.
But, in 2020 I discovered bird feeding and I credit it with helping me reduce my anxiety over the past several years. I wanted to write a short piece from the heart in hopes that it may inspire others my age to try this hobby. I’m 32-years-old at the time of writing this and constantly see discouraging stories like this one from the Harvard Crimson on the growth of anxiety and depression in younger generations.
Please note: The point of this story isn’t to suggest birding as an alternative to therapy and professional help or medication. I’ve sought therapy in the past and it was very helpful. Please seek professional guidance and talk to someone if you’re struggling.
My birding story started several years ago, when we were in the thick of the pandemic… which was very difficult for a man who’s prone to be a hypochondriac. I constantly thought I might be sick and was worried that the world was potentially collapsing. I was working from home and avoiding contact with all people except my significant other. I spent way too much time “doom-scrolling” and reading headlines about COVID-19 on my phone.
But, one thing that gave me comfort at the time was opening my windows and hearing the calls and songs of the local birds. This was something that got me away from reading news headlines constantly. A great, positive distraction! It was also reassuring to recognize that society was struggling, but our local birds were continuing life as usual. Nature has a way of grounding you and making you feel a part of something bigger and more assuring. Birds are no exception.
My girlfriend (now my wife!) and I eventually moved into a bigger apartment a year later that had a balcony. I decided that it would be a fun distraction to buy a small bird feeder off Amazon in an effort to draw in some birds and pass the time. The feeder arrived already broken during transit. Within a few months, I regularly had house finches stopping by the morning and evening to stop and eat seed during the cold winter months.
Since then, bird feeding has been a daily exercise in relaxation for me. I try to spend at least a minute a day appreciating the birds at my window (even House Sparrows, which I’m not a hug fan of) and find that it sets me in a better mood for the day, or cuts down my stress after a busy one. I’ve also grown fond of my weekend routine of reading on the couch while watching the birds get their morning meal. My reading has gone through the roof as a result of bird feeding. A huge bonus! I also run a lot outside and have found extra joy in noticing birds that cross my path. These are all small moments that have led me to be more focused and present as a husband, with my friends and family, and at work.
In a nutshell, here’s what bird feeding has helped me with:
- Calming down
- Putting things into perspective
- Appreciating nature
- Wanting to live a more sustainable and nature-friendly life
- Makes me feel closer to nature
- Gets me outside in the winter to replace seed and clean the feeders
- Learning about wildlife and the ecosystem
My story is one that I’m also happy to see is backed up by research. In late 2022, a study published in Scientific Reports found that seeing or hearing birds improved mental wellbeing for up to eight hours. If you do a quick Google search, I promise you can find even more evidence!
I can’t solely credit bird feeding for my reversal. I have an amazing supportive wife who’s helped me to not sweat little things and recognize how to love myself. I run regularly and try to eat healthy. But, it’s amazing how in tandem, a bunch of different things combined can take you to a better mental place. Bird feeding has helped me be a more even-keeled and less stressed person. I hate to preach this too, but younger generations could also use hobbies that help us spend less time on our phones.
So, if you have the space to do so, I’d encourage you to consider giving bird feeding a try. No matter your age! If you don’t have the space or want a mess, buy a pair of binoculars and look for birds out your window or in your neighborhood. Heck, even being more aware of birds around you and their songs can make a big difference in mental health. Sometimes bird feeding is viewed as something that helps our feathered friends (and it can!), but I feel this hobby is more beneficial for us versus them.
Happy birding everyone!