Learning From Nature: Migrating Birds and Stress Management

Now a days, stress has become an integral part of our day-to-day life and hence every one of us has to face it in one or other forms. The stress is created by various factors known as stressors. They may be, environmental, physiological, social or cognitive. Our body reacts to these stressors physiologically by secretion of a hormone called, corticosterone that leads to a “Fight or Fright” response. Although this type of response is interpreted as an adaptive value, persistent or frequent occurrence of stress does lead to chronic undesirable effects in due course on physiological and behavioural responses of human body.

Knowing the importance of stress in health management, many stress management techniques have been evolved and suggested to combat stress. However, no comprehensive methodology is available for an overall management of stress that could be applied for any type of stress. Here comes the solution to this problem from the Nature.

A critical study of the migrating behaviours of some long-migrating birds provides some basic principles involved in the successful management of stress.

The most stressful part of life in the migrating birds is their long migrating journey. Some of the migrating birds like geese, sparrows, thrushes, warblers etc., are known for their seasonal migration travelling hundreds of miles. They have been performing migration year by year and generation by generation. How they are able to manage this stressful event successfully and performing without any break knowing very well that it will involve severe stress? The answer is that the nature taught them how to manage this stressful event successfully during the course of thousands of years of their evolution.

The following are the basic principles identified in the management of stress by the migrating birds:

Principle of avoidance: The basic reason why the birds perform seasonal migration is to avoid the stress of severe cold that they would have to face during a particular season although the migration by itself a stress causing exercise. Unless these bird move away from the places of severe cold during that season, their chance of survival amidst the severe temperature stress would a remote one. Therefore the Nature taught them that the principle of avoidance would be the best option under such situation. Yet another stress the migrant birds likely to face is the threat of predators on their route of migration. In order to avoid the threat of their predators on their route the birds prefer to take a circuitous route knowing very well that such decision involve additional flight distance. Here also the principle of avoidance is followed while facing the stress by the birds. In both the cases, the principle of avoidance is considered as the more valuable stress management technique for that situations.

Principle of acceptance: In the above case of principle of avoidance, the birds were able to distinguish stresses that are tolerable (manageable) stresses that are intolerable (unmanageable) and they come for a compromise by accepting the tolerable stress in order to avoid the intolerable stress. Here comes the principle of acceptance. According to which, one has to accept some level of stresses and it is not advisable to wait for a stress free situation.

Principle of adaptation: Once the birds accept some types of stresses, they have to prepare themselves to face and to tolerate consequences of the stresses that they have accepted. Even if the accepted stress may be of less severe one for the time being, it has to be managed and eliminated as it likely turns into a chronic one in due course if it is allowed to prolong. Here, the Nature taught them to develop adaptations.

Anticipating the stress due to depletion of energy resources during their continuous flight, the migratory birds store sufficient quantity of fat deposits in their body as the energy reserve before starting their migration. Further, the adrenocortex of the brain that responds to stress and initiate physiological changes in normal birds, is suppressed in migrants thereby, the flight stress is not felt by them. During their prolonged migratory journey, the migrants switch over from their normal food habits to special food habits by selectively consuming antioxidant rich berry fruits. These fruits offer protection against oxidative stress that occurs during long flights. These are some of the adaptations gifted by the Nature as the stress management techniques for the migrant birds.

Thus the principle of adaptation in stress management explains how one can equip himself to combat the stress problems by bringing positive changes in behavior and physiology.

The above said three principles are the lessons derived from the Nature and are the fundamentals for all stress management techniques. They should be taken into account while finding solutions to stress management problems.

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