In the title of this guest blog I have already given myself a difficult task, because bird-watching helps me in so many different ways. My mental health has always been a bit ‘dodgy’, but in 2013 I suffered a complete breakdown and had to seek professional help in order to address my issues.
This process identified what those issues actually were; OCD, anxiety and depression. An interesting cocktail of issues that I believe have been with me since my teenage years. SSRI’s, a year of weekly counselling, a mindfulness course – all have been fantastically helpful in addressing and managing certain aspects of my mental health, but none have had the prolonged impact that bird-watching has.
One particular element of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) means that I constantly seek perfection in everything that occurs in my life. Rationally, I know that there is not always a perfect outcome in life and therefore I fall back on to things that are familiar to me, the ‘tried and tested’.
These default responses and reactions mean that when I find things unfamiliar and challenging, I often crumble under the pressure and my anxiety goes through the roof. I have several compulsions to counteract this and these are generally repetitive actions such as; tapping on things, scratching, clenching my teeth and going to the toilet unnecessarily.
Since I have been interested in birdwatching, I have found that I am able to channel my obsessions and compulsions into the hobby and this allows my symptoms to manifest less in other aspects of my life such as at work. Some of this can be attributed to the listing aspect of birding, but the aspect that has bought much solace has been the multitude of patterns and logical sequencing that birding brings into my life. It's like the perfect antithesis to the chaos of everyday life.
I started to notice patterns in the way of specific birds being in specific places at specific times. The chronological frames that these bird ‘calendars’ represented started to put themselves at the forefront of my focus. I then started to grasp how seasonal changes and weather patterns affect bird movements and distribution.
I really hadn’t fathomed the depth and breadth of reading matter that existed and to this day I still discover new articles and books that expand my birding wisdom.
The pattern and repetition of visiting the same places over a period of time have provided me with much-needed balance and stability. Over time, I started to develop a sense of what birds should and could turn up in different places. This in turn fostered a sense of normality and security and therefore this helped to alleviate feelings of anxiety and disappointment.
As patterns help to ease my anxiety, finding that they were firmly entrenched in my new interest made me feel a close affinity to birding and with nature in general.
I have been writing about the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching for well over a year now. I post snippets and segments on my blog ‘Bird Therapy’ (linked below) and these are all part of my wider writing which I hope to encapsulate into a book of the same name.
Many people seem to share my view on birdwatching as a therapeutic measure and I have had lots of responses to the survey that can also be found on my blog. I also have a run of t-shirts available until the 21st of February with my logo on, profits of which will be going towards engaging challenging young people with nature, in particular birdwatching.
Clearly Joe has found a fantastic tool to help with his own mental health. Is birding something you've tried (or would like to)? What hobbies do you use to help with your own wellbeing? Let us know in the comments below.
You can keep up-to-date with Joe via his own blog at www.birdtherapy.wordpress.com. He's also on Twitter (or even Tweeter ;-), where he's @BirdTherapy. As Joe mentioned, if you fancy spreading the word and want looking swish whilst you're bird-watching and help a great cause, you can get your own Bird Therapy T-shirts over at https://www.mercht.com/c/birdtherapy