I started attracting and enjoying garden birds more than 20 years ago. Although I had already been diagnosed with depression at the time, I didn’t start the hobby for the specific purpose of easing my depression. Rather, depression relief through back garden birding was an unexpected bonus I discovered later, by accident.
I started back garden birding in 1999 when we moved out to the suburbs and had room in the garden to put up some feeders and nesting boxes. Like many newbies, I tried different types of bird seeds and fruits to attract them. It was and continues to be exciting – especially when a Baltimore oriole or indigo bunting happens along.
Most days I’d forget I even had depression, but then there are episodes where thoughts would ruminate in my mind causing feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness. I’ve tried to manage these periods by applying one of the many cognitive behaviour techniques I learned over the years to quiet the mind, such as meditation.
One day, while struggling with a mild episode of depression, I went outside to meditate but I couldn’t stay focused. For a few seconds, I’d focus on my breath, but kept having to refocus because the birds in my garden were distracting me.
If you don’t know about meditation – it entails focusing on one thing (breath is the most popular focus point) to quiet the other thoughts in your mind. Having to refocus is normal and expected, especially if you’re a newbie or unpractised (like myself).
Finally, I gave up and decided to just listen to the birds. They were singing and calling back and forth. There were different species making the sounds so it was like listening to a symphony. This went on for some time and before I realised it, those ruminating thoughts I was trying to push out of my head were gone. My attention easily and naturally drifted with the sounds of birds in my garden. It was effortless, relaxing, and immensely enjoyable.
That was the moment I discovered my most effective tool for quieting my mind and bringing about some peace. If I’m being honest, this is the only effective tool I use today because it’s the only one that doesn’t require me to constantly refocus. You may call it my new meditation focus method, but I prefer to just call it: ‘being with the birds.’
There have even been studies done that support the peace I experience just listening to the birds. The Journal of Environmental Psychology refers to it as ‘attention restoration’ and ‘stress recovery.’
A separate study by the University of Exeter concluded: ‘watching birds near your home is good for your mental health.’
Thankfully, depression and mental health, in general, are no longer as taboo as they once were. I personally feel obligated to share my experience if I think someone will benefit. Today, my gift to you is the possibility of peace of mind through listening to garden birds.
You don’t need a mental health diagnosis to experience the benefits of being with your back garden birds. Heck, we’re all dealing with stresses these days that could use some chilling out – especially after the year we’ve just had. 2020: the year of the pandemic.
Long after the pandemic is behind us, we’ll continue to experience stress and anxiety brought on by just about anything in this fast-moving, technology-wielding world we live in. No worries, pull up a lawn chair, close your eyes, open your ears, and just relax.
If you need some help attracting wild birds to your garden, check out some of my How to Attract Wild Birds articles specifically designed to attract certain species to your garden.
Tammy Poppie is the founder of OnTheFeeder, a site devoted to back garden birding and helping others bring nature up close. It has helped her manage depression.