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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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Dr. Michelle Millis Chappel

Michelle is a psychology-professor-turned-rock-star who has helped thousands of people create successful meaningful lives by using their superpowers.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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