My bird, Pearl, is always freaking out about something.
Whether it is the sight of a butterfly flitting by outside, the sound of my large silver hairdryer, or the experience of watching Mommy round the corner and disappear from her line-of-sight view, the phrase I speak most frequently to my diminutive grey and white avian companion is a soothing, “Don’t worry”.
She never listens.
Freaking out is in a cockatiel’s nature, as it turns out. Every cockatiel I have ever known or owned has behaved similarly. What I marvel at is how the continual influx of stress doesn’t seem to bother Pearl much. If I spent my days freaking out as often as she does, I would be a nervous wreck. I might be dead.
But 10 healthy years into a predicted 20+ year lifespan, Pearl’s vet says she is doing just fine. She freaks, deals with it, and moves on. Like a small child or a tropical storm, the stress blows in, through, and out again, leaving no trace of its presence behind.
This is soooooo interesting to me.
What does Pearl know – and others of her kind – that we humans do not? Why is stress toxic to our collective systems, yet while Pearl experiences twice as much stress as I do (at least by all outward signs) she has to go to the vet in inverse proportion to the number of times I land in the doctor’s office annually?
Biologically speaking, repeated bouts with stress can build up a substance called cortisol (frequently dubbed “the stress hormone”) in our systems that can weaken our immune systems and leave us vulnerable to illness, disease, and death. The biological “fight or flight” syndrome that we share in common with our avian and mammalian counterparts is the trigger that causes our collective bodies to release cortisol, but that in and of itself is not negatively impactful to our health. Studies have shown that short periods of elevated cortisol levels in the body are not harmful in their own right.
What impacts our health is how quickly we can return …