It’s Stress Awareness Month. Let birds be your remedy.

i Apr 23, 2024 No Comments by

Authored by Rick LaRose, Wake Audubon board member and Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging co-chair. Reach Rick at [email protected].

I’ll admit I’m stressed a lot of the time. Work. Relationships. Health concerns. The wellbeing of my nearly 90-year-old parents. Doing my best to be the best son, brother, partner, mentor, coach, co-worker, friend, board member or committee chair I can be. Though I try, I’m not always the best at navigating these, and all the sources of stress can be – well, stressful. 

The catalysts of stress are many. 

Common stressors in our everyday lives can include relationship and family situations, financial worries, health concerns – ours and those we know and love, and work-related issues or academic challenges. 

Stress may be triggered by time constraints, overwhelming expectations and all the demands on us in our day-to-day lives. 

We might feel uncertainty about major life changes, like losing a job, starting a job or moving. 

We might feel stress in our desire to be seen or heard, or to find empathy and understanding. 

We might feel stress about big picture problems like political strife, climate change, systemic inequalities, or the suffering of others around the world due to war or famine. 

There seems no lack of reasons for our stress. Experiencing one or more of these can leave us physically and emotionally worn out. 

Are you stressed too? If so, you are not alone. 

People who live in North Carolina have shown signs of being impacted by stress more than most. North Carolina was ranked seventh out of 49 states across four stress metrics: employment, housing, health, and Google search trends, according to data scientists at Leafwell, as reported by The Charlotte Observer August 2023. 

Those Google search trends included stress-related search terms such as unemployment rates, changes to housing prices, and stress relief and stress remedies, the report stated. 

Our inability to manage stress can lead to more. 

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. NAMI advocates for all who are affected by mental illness, both the individuals and the people in their lives. In particular, they work to address disparities and injustices and to promote dignity and inclusion for all people with mental illness and their families.

According to NAMI, an estimated 1 in every 5 adults experiences mental health problems each year. 

In 2023, our rate of mental illness in NC was 19.8%. 

30.1% of adults have anxiety or depression. 

Our ability – or inability to process stress is a high contributor to this reality for many in our community. Every person has some risk of developing a mental health disorder, regardless of their demographics.

Stress can manifest in both physical and emotional ways.

While in short bursts stress can help to increase productivity or maintain focus, chronic stress takes a toll on overall well-being.

The physical effects of stress on our bodies can be profound, manifesting in increased heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tension and headaches, digestive issues and sleep disturbances. 

Emotionally, stress can take a toll on our mental well-being, leading to increased anxiety, worry and nervousness, and persistent feelings of irritability or sadness. 

April calls our attention to stress awareness.

April, designated as Stress Awareness Month by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), brings attention to the diverse sources of stress that impact individuals across various aspects of life. 

NIMH prompts us to learn what causes or triggers our stress and what coping techniques work for us. Activities they recommend include sticking to a sleep routine and getting enough sleep; exercise and healthy regular meals; and relaxation exercises to practice mindfulness, which is a psychological process of actively paying attention to the present moment. 

One way to mitigate stress is right outside. 

Some great news is that there’s a counter to stress right outside our windows and doors. 

As I’m writing this a mockingbird has perched atop my chimney, or fake chimney in that it frames the vent from our gas log fireplace. I’m able to hear it as if it’s in the room. Cycling through its repertoire, I’m allowing myself to pause, to take in the lovely gift of song it’s brought to me. 

I find myself noting the number of times the mockingbird repeats a phrase (known to be 2 – 6) before shifting to a new sound, and the different sounds I hear given that the mockingbird is a skilled imitator of so many other birds, with sharp rasps, scolds and trills among its delivery. 

Compelled to look outdoors, male goldfinches, having reclaimed their bright yellow color, are drifting with females to and from a feeder with sunflower chips. A downy woodpecker is cautiously grasping the feeder pole, staging its next move to a suet cake. A Carolina wren is popping about flowerpots, always the investigator. I can’t help but smile to think that it’s likely seeking to build its nest in our grill again this year. How it manages to do that I haven’t a clue. 

Male and female cardinals dart about and begin to chirp. With the mockingbird now quiet, I faintly hear the slow, thin Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody’ whistle of a white-throated sparrow – one of my favorite bird songs – which beckons me to slow my pace and be present in the moment with it too. 

All within a few seconds my mind is lifted away from all that was busying it. After that respite I find myself more methodically thinking about my day, ready to take on my tasks ahead. 

The health benefits of birding and bird song are many.

Cognitive stimulation: Engaging in birding (the observation of birds) and listening to bird songs stimulates cognitive function. The sensory experiences of observing birds in their natural habitats and tracking their chirps and songs can be mentally rejuvenating. Learning about different bird species, habitats, and behaviors enhances cognitive skills such as observation, attention, and problem-solving, providing a cognitive challenge and a sense of accomplishment. 

Emotional well-being: The serene environment of natural settings and the beauty of bird songs evoke positive emotions, such as joy, awe, and gratitude, which promote psychological resilience against stress-related mood disturbances and foster contentment. Observing birds and listening to their songs can be meditative experiences, calming the mind.

Physical relaxation: Spending time in nature and engaging in birding also induces physical relaxation and reduces muscle tension. The peaceful ambiance of natural landscapes and the rhythmic sounds of bird songs trigger the relaxation response, lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of stress hormones like cortisol. 

Physical activity: At the same time, birding often involves outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, and exploring natural environments, promoting physical activity and exercise. Regular physical activity is essential for stress management and overall health, reducing the risk of chronic diseases and improving physical fitness.

Connection with nature: Birding cultivates a sense of wonder and interconnectedness with the natural world. Immersing oneself in natural environments promotes environmental stewardship and a sense of perspective, which can alleviate stress and promote holistic well-being. 

Community and social connection: Birding often fosters a sense of community and social connection among enthusiasts of all birding abilities. Participating in birding groups allows individuals to enjoy companionship with others who share a like curiosity about birds. Our social connection can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are common sources of stress. 

Mindfulness: And as I described, birding and bird song can capture all our attention, immerse us in the present moment, provide respite from worry and promote mental clarity. 

This benefit is well realized by Wildlife Biologist Phil Doerr too: “After many decades of birding, it’s clear to me that this activity requires focus that puts me ‘in the moment’. Closely watching a bird flit erratically through the underbrush to detect field marks and clues to the bird’s identity (wing bars, eye color, rump patch color) requires concentrating all my senses, releasing me from all other competing thoughts or concerns.”

“The bird of the moment captures my entire attention, that is, until the next bird of the moment captures my entire attention, and so the time plays out. All the while I’m surrounded by other birds singing and calling in the canopy above, providing a comforting cacophony that further immerses me in a nature ‘time-out’.” 

Benefits of birds are backed by research. 

A 2022 study involving nearly thirteen hundred self-selected respondents, primarily from the United Kingdom, but also from the European Union, U.S., China, and Australia, concluded that “Everyday encounters with birdlife were associated with time-lasting improvements in mental well-being. These improvements were evident not only in healthy people but also in those with a diagnosis of depression, the most common mental illness across the world.” 

The study indicated that “the effect of birds was greater than what would be expected by being exposed to green spaces. In other words, while nature, in general, has a salutary effect, seeing and hearing birds went beyond that of the outdoors by itself.”

A local mental health advocate knows the benefits first-hand.

I had the pleasure of meeting the new Executive Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Wake County Mark Simon, on a recent Wake Audubon bird outing. Mark is passionate about NAMI’s mission, mentioned above. He’s passionate about birding too, in support of his own mental health, and promotes it to others:

“My own journey with birding began exactly two years ago on April 24, 2022. The stress of graduate school, social isolation, a chronic ankle injury, and a particularly acute flare-up of a mood disorder were taking its toll on my health and wellbeing. Having read an article about the health benefits of birding, I bought a cheap pair of binoculars, downloaded eBird and Merlin, and went for a quick walk in the woods. The half-mile trip lasted just 30 minutes, but proved to be more restorative than any other self-care activity I tried since moving to North Carolina. As time went on, birding became an integral part of my ‘mental health toolkit,’ supplementing professional care and medication.”

“Birding for self-care is unique in its adaptability. It can be enjoyed solo or in group settings. During the day or in the evening. With just your eyes, ears, or both. Off the beaten path, from a car, or even the comfort of your own home. Having the flexibility to tap into this stress reliever no matter my schedule, physical ability, or state of mind, has been life changing. It’s why I’m so enthusiastic about sharing this activity with anyone who may be struggling with their mental health.”

When you’re next feeling stressed, take time – with birds – to decompress. 

The Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, also known as forest bathing, involves spending time in a natural environment, focusing on sensory engagement to connect with nature. If you’ve ever been in a forest, listened to the birds, and watched the sunshine filtering through the leaves, this practice asserts that you’ve already participated in one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental well-being.

While I’m thankful to my backyard mockingbird for having unexpectedly invited me to a much-appreciated mental health break, I’m striving like Mark to be more intentional in making time for my physical and mental health: to ease my stress each day with short breaks to glance or make my way outside, to forest bathe in a nearby greenspace, and make plans take part with others in nature. 

Might you pledge to do the same? 

Apps can be of aid.

If you choose to take technology along, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free Merlin and eBird apps Mark mentioned are two we recommend. 

Answer three simple questions about a bird you are trying to identify and Merlin will give you a list of possible matches. Sound ID listens to the birds around you and shows real-time suggestions for who’s singing.

Use eBird Mobile to search for recent reports of species nearby and find new birds you’ve always wanted to see. When you’re ready, this resource can help you to create and submit lists of your birding activity, and receive lists from leaders whose outings you join. As an added bonus, all the data from everyone’s lists becomes openly available for scientific research, education, and conservation. Feel proud about your contribution to community science. 

Connect with birds, nature – and others, with Wake Audubon. 

Wake Audubon hosts numerous bird outings each month, and we warmly invite you to join us no matter your birding ability. Everyone’s welcome, as you are; members and non-members; free of charge. We have binoculars to borrow. Leaders and participants are eager to help everyone sight and hear what can be found. 

Delight in a slow-paced sensory excursion with others, all together, present with nature. Find outings listed on Wake Audubon meetup and our website calendar

If seeking time in nature on your own, you might choose among these local birding sites.

Here’s to all of us realizing the mental and physical health benefits of managing our stress – during Stress Awareness Month, and every month. Nature and birds are ready to help. 


In addition to being a Certified Wildlife Biologist, Phil Doerr is retired Professor Emeritus in the NCSU Fisheries and Wildlife Program, former Wake Audubon board member and conservation chair, and current Wake Audubon Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging committee member instrumental in our Beginner Birders Program. 

Mark Simon welcomes you to connect with NAMI Wake County to learn more about their range of advocacy, education, awareness, and support programs.



National Stress Awareness Month. Link.

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone. NC ranks among ‘most stressed out’ states. Here’s why. Link

Stress statistics 2024: How common is stress and who’s most affected? Link.

How Bird Songs Improve Mental Health. Link

Bird and birdsong encounters improve mental health, study finds. Link.

Birding with Benefits: How Nature Improves our Mental Mindsets. Link.

The Surprising Health Benefits of Bird-Watching Link.


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