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Showing Compassion For Animals Can Improve Your Health, Research Says

Showing Compassion For Animals Can Improve Your Health, Research Says

“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” — Albert Einstein

Did you know that having compassion for others improves your health? If you’re a pet owner or animal lover, you’ll be pleased to learn that this includes showing kindness to your furry, feathered, and scaled friends, too. Just by petting your dogs and cats, and being kind to creatures in the wild, you enhance your mental and physical health, lower anxiety and depression, recover from illnesses more quickly, and increase your lifespan. Here are some of the reasons why this compassion is so beneficial.

1. Compassion Improves Well-being

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France

The two cats I rescued from an animal shelter a couple of years ago actually rescued me. These unwanted felines helped me to find hope and resilience after losing my father to Parkinson’s Disease. Two-year-old Ziggy was on the kill list because it would cost too much to pull his bad teeth. And Zoe was getting “too old” to be adoptable. These playful friends showed me unconditional love, made me laugh, and helped me feel like I was not alone after I’d walled myself off from the world. Can you relate?

Studies show that spending 15 to 30 minutes of quality time with your pets makes you feel more relaxed. Playing with your dogs and cats increases feel-good neurotransmitters that help balance mood (serotonin) and control the brain’s pleasure centers (dopamine). Just watching reunions between dogs and their owners, and cats with the people they own, shows how much joy these pets can bring to our lives.

2. Compassion Boosts Physical Health

“Dogs are not our whole lives, but they make our lives whole.” — Roger Caras

My friend Mary told me about how a middle-aged Golden Retriever turned her mother’s declining health around. Mary had given Andy to her mom to serve as a constant companion now that she was stuck at home ailing from a condition she was unmotivated to improve. Over time, Andy gained a lot of weight. Her mother felt such compassion for the canine that she forced herself to get up and walk him a little each day. At first it was just a few steps, then a couple of blocks, and now miles. Not only did Andy lose the weight, but Mary’s mother looks and feels ten years younger.

Having a dog prompts us to exercise more, which lowers our blood pressure and make us less likely to get heart disease. In general, people with dogs visit their doctor less often than people who don’t have dogs. And owning a cat lowers the chances of dying from a heart attack. Loving our pets lowers stress, thus diminishing the risk that we’ll get a whole host of nasty diseases.

3. Compassion Increases Vitality and Longevity

“Compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves.” — Mason Cooley

Playing and laughing with your dogs and cats can help boost your immune system and increase your day-to-day energy levels. According to Mao Shing Ni, PhD, “numerous studies have shown that having pets helps lower our stress levels, decrease blood pressure, benefit our cholesterol, improve our mood, and boost our immunity – in other words, lengthen our life span.”

Other research shows that volunteerism predicts a longer and healthier life. For 26 years, Jung Myoung has saved hundreds of dogs from being eaten in South Korea, where they’re considered a delicacy. She buys them from dog traders and is still going strong at age 61 under tough circumstances.

4. Compassion Gives Us Possibilities

“When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul.” — Anthony Douglas Williams

Believing that you have possibilities gives you a higher quality of life, especially when you’re physically impaired. Kirsten Klindworth was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer ride her beloved Arabian horse Synbaadd (aka Cory). Once Francine Dismukes trained Cory to lie down so that Kristin could mount him, she was able to ride him again and set her soul free.

Service dogs lessen anxiety and depression in their owners, giving them hope for the future. There are even seeing eye horses now, too!  Dan Shaw calls Cuddles, the first documented case, his “best friend and guiding light.”

5. The Compassion Animals Show Each Other is Inspiring

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” — Martin Buber

Rademenes is a black cat in a Polish animal shelter who was dropped off to be euthanized, but miraculously recovered from an upper-respiratory infection. He now spends his days helping to nurse sick cats and dogs back to health. Maggie, a mutt who had been admitted to the AARCS shelter, heard new foster pups crying their first night there and escaped from her kennel to sit next to their room and watch over them. Hantu, a white German Shepherd, adopted Poncho, an orphaned baby opossum who regularly rides on her back. Vali, a brown bear in a Budapest zoo, saved a crow from drowning. Footage shows a fox nursing BEAR cubs in a forest after their mother died. Elephants hug and comfort each other in times of distress.

These are just a few of the examples which show that this kind of compassion is in the nature of many animals.

6. The Compassion Animals Show Humans is Inspiring

“We should have more respect for animals because it makes us better humans.” — Jane Goodall

There are several stories of cats saving human lives. For example, a surveillance video captured a cat rescuing a four-year-old boy from a vicious unprovoked dog attack (that video has over 25 millionYouTube views).

A dolphin prevented a teenager from drowning, a calf saved a woman from a snake, a gorilla rescued a boy from being attacked by other gorillas in a zoo, a pit bull protected a mother and young son from being knifed by a man in a playground… the list goes on.

7. Compassion Can Be Taught

“Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use.” — Gandhi

In Russia, homeless cats and dogs die not only from hunger, cold, and accidents, but also from beatings and beheadings in appalling numbers by children who were not given enough attention and love (many are orphans). Big Hearts Foundation is reducing the incidence of animal cruelty by teaching kids to develop empathy, love, and care for animals through the use of cartoons.

Kevin Richardson, a South African Zoologist, hugs lions and shows how playful these cats can be to engender compassion in hunters in the hopes of preventing them from killing off this dwindling precious wildlife.

8. Compassion Is Instinctive

“Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living beings, humanity will not find peace.” — Dr. Albert Schweitzer, 1952 Nobel Peace Prize

At the Interspecies Equality Sanctuary in Santiago, Chile, a refuge for farm animals, Marina the kitten and Laura the piglet bonded after surviving extremely tough starts in life. According to the sanctuary owner, “Laura has formed a deep friendship with Marina the kitten, showing by example, that when it comes to relations of friendship and respect, it doesn’t matter the species to which one belongs.”

And Lilica, a superhero mutt in Brazil, travels miles to bring food back to her chicken, cat, and dog friends in a junkyard. According to the junkyard owner, Neile Vãnia Antônio, “we human beings, we almost never share things with others. Now for an animal to share with others, it’s a… life lesson for us.”

9. Compassion Makes Us Feel Good

“We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” — Immanuel Kant

As I did research for this article, I have to admit that I was blown away by the sheer volume of stories I found on animals exhibiting concern and care for each other. If they can do it, so can we. And we do.

An everyday hero un-trapped a Bighorn sheep he encountered while jogging in the woods. Two good samaritans rescued a deer who was stranded on an ice pond. Beach-goers helped save a beached Great white shark. Valentin Gruener saved Sirga, a lioness cub abandoned by her pride, from dying. John Unger held his beloved dog Schoep in a lake every day to help relieve his pooch’s pain from arthritis.

Inspiring, right? So, why not show an animal a little extra love and tenderness today? You don’t have to go as far as hugging a lion, but you can spend more quality time with your pets. Let’s be honest. It’s pretty easy to overlook them when we get caught up in our fast-paced, hectic world. But they don’t live as long as we do (usually), and our time together is precious. Make it count. Expressing empathy for animals not only lifts your mood, lowers stress, and boosts your health, but it cracks your heart wide open, too.

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Featured photo credit: http://www.earthporm.com via lionwhisperer.co.za

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Michelle Millis Chappel

Princeton Ph.D. in psychology, world-acclaimed singer-songwriter, speaker, coach, and author

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Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

Science Says Screaming Is Good For You

There are many reasons why people might scream – they’re angry, scared, or in pain (or maybe they’re in a metal band!). Some might say that screaming is bad, but here’s why science says it’s good for you.

“For the first time in the history of psychology there is a way to access feelings, hidden away, in a safe way and thus to reduce human suffering. It is, in essence, the first science of psychotherapy.” — Dr. Arthur Janov

Primal Therapy

Dr. Arthur Janov invented Primal Therapy in the late 1960’s. It is a practice that allows the patient to face their repressed emotions from past trauma head on and let those emotions go. This treatment is intended to cure any mental illness the patient may have that surfaced from this past trauma. In most cases, Primal Therapy has lead Dr. Janov’s patients to scream towards the end of their session, though it was not part of the original procedure. During a group therapy session that was at a standstill, Dr. Janov says that one of his patients, a student he called Danny, told a story that inspired him to implement a technique that he never would have thought of on his own.

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How it Started

“During a lull in our group therapy session, he told us a story about a man named Ortiz who was currently doing an act on the London stage in which he paraded around in diapers drinking bottles of milk. Throughout his number, Ortiz is shouting, ‘Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!’ at the top of his lungs. At the end of his act he vomits. Plastic bags are passed out, and the audience is requested to follow suit.”

It doesn’t end there, though. Dr. Janov said that his patient was quite fascinated with that story, and that alone moved him to suggest something even he believed to be a little elementary.

“I asked him to call out, ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ Danny refused, saying that he couldn’t see the sense in such a childish act, and frankly, neither could I. But I persisted, and finally, he gave in. As he began, he became noticeably upset. Suddenly he was writhing on the floor in agony. His breathing was rapid, spasmodic. ‘Mommy! Daddy!’ came out of his mouth almost involuntarily in loud screeches. He appeared to be in a coma or hypnotic state. The writhing gave way to small convulsions, and finally, he released a piercing, deathlike scream that rattled the walls of my office. The entire episode lasted only a few minutes, and neither Danny nor I had any idea what had happened. All he could say afterward was: ‘I made it! I don’t know what, but I can feel.’”

Delving deeper

Dr. Janov says he was baffled for months, but then he decided to experiment with another patient with the same method, which lead to a similar result as before. The patient started out calling “Mommy! Daddy!” then experienced convulsions, heavy breathing, and then eventually screamed. After the session, Dr. Janov says his patient was transformed and became “virtually another human being. He became alert… he seemed to understand himself.”

Although the initial intention of this particular practice wasn’t to get the patient to scream, more than once did his Primal Therapy sessions end with the patient screaming and feeling lighter, revived, and relieved of stresses that were holding them down in life.

Some Methods To Practice Screaming

If you want to try it out for yourself, keep reading!

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  • Step 1: Be Alone — Be alone. If you live in a place that you can’t be alone, it might be a good idea to talk to your family or roommates and explain to them what you’re about to do and make sure they’re okay with it. If you’re good to go, move on to step 2.
  • Step 2: Lie Down — Lie down on a yoga mat on your back and place a pillow underneath your head. If you don’t own a yoga mat, you can use a rug or even a soft blanket.
  • Step 3: Think — Think of things that have hurt you or made you angry. It can be anything from your childhood or even something that happened recently to make yourself cry, if you’re not already crying or upset. You could even scream “Mommy! Daddy!” just like Dr. Janov’s patients did to get yourself started.
  • Step 4: Scream — Don’t hold anything back; cry and scream as loud as you can. You can also pound your fists on the ground, or just lie there and scream at the top of your lungs.

After this, you should return your breathing to a normal and steady pace. You should feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted off of you. If not, you can also try these other methods.

Scream Sing

Scream singing” is referring to what a lot of lead singers in metal or screamo bands will do. I’ve tried it and although I wasn’t very good at it, it was fun and definitely relieved me of any stress I was feeling from before. It usually ends up sounding like a really loud grunt, but nonetheless, it’s considered screaming.

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  • Step 1 — Bear down and make a grunting sound.
  • Step 2 — Hiss like a snake and make sure to do this from your diaphragm (your stomach) for as long as you can.
  • Step 3 — Breathe and push your stomach out for more air when you are belting notes, kind of like you would if you were singing.
  • Step 4 — Try different ways to let out air to control how long the note will last, just make sure not to let out too much air.
  • Step 5 — Distort your voice by pushing air out from your throat, just be careful not to strain yourself.
  • Step 6 — Play around with the pitch of your screams and how wide your mouth is open – the wider your mouth is open, the higher the screams will sound. The narrower or rounder your mouth is (and most likely shaped like an “o”), the lower the screams will sound.
  • Step 7 — Start screaming to metal music. If you’re not a huge metal fan, it’s okay. You don’t have to use this method if you don’t want to.

If you want a more thorough walkthrough of how to scream sing, here’s a good video tutorial. If this method is too strenuous on your vocal chords, stop. Also, make sure to stay hydrated when scream singing and drink lots of water.

Scream into a pillow

Grab a pillow and scream into it. This method is probably the fastest and easiest way to practice screaming. Just make sure to come up for air.

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Always remember to make sure that you’re not going to disturb anyone while practicing any of these methods of screaming. And with that, happy screaming!

Featured photo credit: Sharon Mollerus via flickr.com

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