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7 Ways Pets Contribute to Your Well-Being

7 Ways Pets Contribute to Your Well-Being

Pets make us happy. We dance with our pets, jump around with our pets, and even video tape our pets doing silly behaviors that make us laugh so hard we cry.

Sure, we get angry with them when they make us trip and fall or when they constantly beg for treats or scraps. There may even be times when you want to scream because your pet has had an accident in the house or chewed up your best pair of slippers. But just as much as they annoy us, they give us three times as much love and happiness. It is the ability of a pet to make us feel loved unconditionally and like we are their favorite person in the world.

In fact, pets can be so beneficial that many of them have become therapeutic assistants to people who suffer with mental illnesses, also known as emotional support animals.

Emotional support animals can go anywhere with their owners, even on airplanes. Veterans are examples of groups of people who qualify for an emotional support animal due to dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after being in combat.

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Almost any animal can qualify as an emotional support animal, according to the National Service Animal Registry. Some of the disorders animals can help improve include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder and even eating disorders.

Many people think dogs are the best animal to use for emotional support; however, there are many different types of animals that can help a person reduce mental illness symptoms. Horses, rabbits, cats, reptiles, alpacas and even birds can have a positive impact on a person’s mental health. One of the main types, Equine Therapy or the use of horses, is becoming more popular in the mental health industry.

Horses

Psychological benefits from therapeutic horse riding include reduced feelings of insecurity and improved self-confidence.  It can also improve attention and concentration. Mental illnesses that can also benefit include autism, phobias, anxiety, nervousness, and aggressiveness.  Horses can also teach a person how to respect others.

Equine therapy is defined as experiential therapy using interactions between patients and horses. This can include riding horses or just petting horses. Some claim that just watching horses can be calming. They are such beautiful animals with great strength that watching them in action can help us have a more positive outlook.

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Dogs

Dogs are not being used to just assist those who are legally blind. They are not just used in law enforcement for forensics or sniffing out criminal activity. Today, dogs are offering mental health comfort from major disorders such as post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. Dogs can be trained to be very sensitive to the emotional needs of a person, which makes them a great candidate for therapy assistance.

Mental Health Organization reports dogs can benefit people with mental health illnesses by assisting them in the areas of socialization and reducing loneliness. Dogs can also help kids with attention deficit disorder stay focused for longer periods of time. Furthermore, dogs have been found to help children with sensory issues due to autism.

Rabbits

Rabbits can make great therapeutic pets due to their mild nature. It is reported that rabbits are less aggressive because they are not predators. Holding a rabbit and petting it can offer a great deal of comfort to both the rabbit and the person in need of healing. They can be easily trained and are less allergenic than cats.

Humana reports that New York University Langhorne Medical Center in Manhattan actually has bunnies on staff to help patients of all kinds utilize different methods of healing. While it was not reported if they get a salary, the author did mention that they live on a floor of the hospital and patients ranging from children to the elderly like to visit them. The rabbits reportedly bring smiles and overall feelings of joy, even if for a little while. This small time with bunnies can bring huge benefits to the patient and give them a needed break from their recovery treatments.

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Alpacas

Modern Farmer magazine ran a story on a farm in New Jersey that connects people with mental illnesses of all kinds with their alpacas. Learning to handle alpacas can be difficult at times, but this can also be best for clients suffering from substance abuse or a mental disorder who need to learn to be responsible and put other’s needs before their own. Taking care of an alpaca can also give them a sense of accomplishment and offer them a feeling of pride.

Birds

As a therapy animal, birds may be used differently than a dog or cat. It is hard to put your bird on a leash and go hang out at the park. However, spending time with a therapy bird has proven to help some with mental illness. Some birds, such as parrots, can copy the words you state when you state them. If you say “hello” in a bright and chipper tone, so will the bird. If you speak in an angry or sad manner, the parrot will repeat it in that same manner. This may help you recognize when you are being negative versus when you are being positive. It can give you an insight as to how you sound to others and help you learn to think first before automatically feeling or acting negatively.

There are also benefits to just watching birds in their environment. Bird watching can teach a person patience and how to stay relaxed and calm rather than getting anxious. Bird watching can also improve a person’s ability to be reflective and introspective and can give people a sense of community. Bird watching is such a great distraction from any mental health issues you may be dealing with each day.

Cats

Cats are great for reducing anxiety and fear in children and adolescents. They teach  kids responsibility, offer them friendship and a distraction, as well as physical contact and social comfort. Cats can at times seem moody and detached and only want to be loved when they are ready to be loved. This sounds a lot like how people behave too, wanting to give or receive love only when the time is right for them. But when a cat is ready to give or receive love, it is worth the wait. They become cuddly and purr, which sounds a lot like happiness. The purring sound automatically makes the owner feel good. Knowing your cat is happy makes you happy.

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A study conducted on cat owners showed that 87 percent of those surveyed believed their cats have a positive impact on their wellbeing. They claim the cat’s purr can have a calming and relaxing effect on people who come home from a stressful day at work.

Animal Wellness magazine states a cat’s purr has healing benefits. Not only do the sounds of the purrs make us relax and reduces our stress, some claim that the vibrations from the purrs can have healing effects on physical ailments such as joint aches or headaches. The author goes so far as to relate that cats know where your aches are and tend to lay down next to the parts of your body that need healing. For instance, if you have a headache, the cat will know to lay down by your head!

Reptiles

This may seem scary to some, but snakes and lizards can cause comfort. While some people have a phobia of reptiles, others view them as relaxing.

Therapy snakes treat depression. Therapy snakes are reptiles that have been trained specifically to work with people who have mental illnesses.  A lot of time and effort has gone into this process. It would not be a good idea to go find the nearest snake in your backyard or neighboring forest to try your own form of therapy. This may not end well.

But when working with trained snakes that are used to being handled, they can give a person a sense of achievement.  It has also been noted that snakes are not judgmental and enjoy being handled. In fact, some researchers claim snakes prefer being handled by an owner.

Americans spend millions of dollars getting animals vaccinated, treated and cured at the veterinarian. Great lengths are taken to bury a pet—some even having funerals for their pets. We buy photos, clothing, specialty food, and even psychics for the animals we love. Some people even have their animals stuffed after their passing. We take them to the store, on vacations, to the park and even to specialty animal events. This tells us one major thing: animals have a positive effect on us and our overall well-being. We connect with animals through an unconditional love and a relationship made of mutual nourishment. Using animals to help us deal with emotional disabilities is a great fit for both the animals and the person in need.

More by this author

Adam Gerbman

CSO - Vantage Point Mental Health

7 Ways Pets Contribute to Your Well-Being

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with Them and Enjoy the Ride

13 Tips to Face Your Fears, Grow with Them and Enjoy the Ride

Fear. I spend my life talking about fear — fighting fears, fixing fears and understanding fears. And yet I doubt I get 10 calls a year from people saying “Mandie, can you help me fix my fear?”

Why is this so critically important to you?

The realization for me is that fear is not the fundamental driving force in your life, it’s what regardless of whether I’m talking to a doctor, a teacher, a CEO’s, a senior citizens or teenager – every single one of those conversations has a direct correlation with your world.

Fear can range from the overwhelming desire to look away or stop in your tracks to literally fleeing your country and the life you knew. In this article, I will share with you 13 tips to face your fears and enjoy the ride.

1. Know That Fear Is Real, but Can Be Overcome

Right now around the world, people are facing fear — real fear. Fear that I pray my children and I will never experience. Does that lessen my fears or your fears in your relativity safe 21st century life?

When I look at the world we all live in, I find that fear, like so many other emotions, can mean so many different things to so many different people:

  • The child who has to be physically dragged to their first day of school.
  • The man facing the judge.
  • The woman with her hand poised over the buttons over her phone because she has to walk down a dark corridor late at night alone.
  • The man as the surgeon says “count backwards from 10 Mr. Smith.”
  • The woman that’s told “We are sorry, we can’t help you.”
  • The man that faces the empty circle of a gun and prays for his very existence.

These and a million more (Portrayed in every kind of movie, book or song you could imagine) are what make us human. We face fear and somehow move forward or are stopped in our tracks.

Like the rabbit in the headlights of the car that veers off through the field away from the tyres of the car, or stays still praying for salvation. Like someone will save them. Sound familiar?

Fear is huge. Fear is everywhere and yet fear can be overcome, controlled and can even be a power for good.

2. Accept Your Fear

Firstly, if you aren’t facing the barrel of the gun, atrocities that make the news or impeding death, that’s a good start. However, it doesn’t mean your fear is any less real.

We are quick to say “I can’t moan, my life is not as bad as X.” While in theory, that’s honorable your appreciation of Mr. or Mrs. X’s horrific life won’t change anything directly. So accept your fear is relative to you.

And here’s what can be done.

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3. Get Some Perspective

I found myself asking anyone that would answer “what is your worst fear”. The answer that intrigued me the most came from my daughter (15 years old and she usually has a copy of Fight the Fear – my book – in her school bag so she can help someone else be as positive and confident as her. No matter what life throws up.)

And her fear, surprised me — heights. I pointed out that we live in a sprawling bungalow (one storey) and the highest she goes is two storeys’ at school! She laughed but added, fear isn’t like that Mum. I know it’s not a real fear, but it’s like when you stand on a chair and feel unsafe.

That girl will go far. Because she truly gets fear.

We know something is scary and yet we still do it. Why? Because we have a perspective to the fear. When you lose perspective, it can feel too big, and too scary.

So look around you to get some perspective on your fear:

  • Are you really at risk?
  • Will this kill you?
  • Which leads us on to..
  • If the worst was to happen, what would it be?

4. Hold a Hand

As a coach, it is my job to hold someone’s metaphorical hand and help them face a fear.

Like the child petrified of the thunder storm, or the teen that can’t get back in a car again after failing their test, your job as a parent is to reassure, encourage, enable and motivate someone to face something that ideally they never would choose to again.

We know many of our fears aren’t real. However, it is only when someone guides us with love, respect, lack of judgement and safety are we able to get through fear. And trust me, you can get through your fears. I’ve seen it so many times.

Ask yourself:

  • If the worst were to happen, what would that be?
  • Could that really happen?
  • If the worst did happen, how would you recover?
  • If the worst were to happen, what would you need to do next?

By seeing fear as not the end destination but part of being human, you can see through its wily evil ways and move forward.

5. Know Whose Hand You Hold, Either Physically or Emotionally

This helps with fears for the rest of your life.

Think of someone you can always rely on (and ideally you won’t just answer yourself because that adds a lot of pressure to your existence!) And you will find that you’ve already found a way to get through fear.

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The beauty of this is that it means that fear becomes part of life not something to be feared and shied away from.

It means you know you can turn to your friend, partner, colleague, parent, sibling and say “Right, I need to deal with this, and I’m going to need you to help me.”

For one moment, think about it from the other person’s view point. When we get to help other people, we feel valued, loved, respected and lots of other positive emotions and we get a good dose of positive chemicals setting off in our bodies too.

Your fear, and your determination to fight it, helped someone else too. Now that’s cool right?

6. Understand That There Are Some Things Fear Will Never Touch

I like to find role models in life — people who have faced heroism, history changing moments, war, atrocities, miracles, life saving inventions.

Not everyone was looking for greatness, however, they all found it. And one of my favourite books to date is written about Alistair Urquhart, the forgotten highlander. If this doesn’t get turned into a film in the future, then no man’s story is likely to.

Alistair went through the most horrific experiences in World War II. If you think of one of the awful things that happened back then in our world, Alistair went through at least 3 of them! Asked afterwards, how did you cope? He talked about how whatever they did to his body, no matter how they starved, tortured, threatened or mocked him, they couldn’t have his mind. In his mind, he was free.

Of all the people’s voices I’ve heard in my head over the years, this is one of those statements that reminds me anything is possible if you have faith and hope.

Look for the things in life that fear can’t touch. They will create confidence and faith for the future, whatever you face. And they will give you a sense of why being you is awesome.

Of all the billions of people on this planet, no one will have an answer identical to yours!

7. Process Your Fears to Carry on with Life

Being brave is not about sticking your chest out and smiling regardless of what you endure. It is about finding a way to emotionally process your fears to be able to keep going.

I have a tool kit of things I can rely on – tools, strategies, techniques. They include people to hug or talk to, music, hobbies, walks on the beach and even my favourite food. It sounds mad but at the times where I have questioned “how will I get through this?” I’ve found immense joy in doing the most unlikely of thing that makes me smile.

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It may be a short lived moment of happiness. However, it reminded me that nothing stays the same and I can find a way.

One client told me that it was crazy when it felt like their world was falling around their ears to run a bath to the brim (you don’t waste water) get the best bath oils, light too many candles, lock the door and drink a glass of bubbly (champagne is only for special occasions.)

Did that moment fix the disaster that my client’s life felt? No. However, it gave them a moment of calm, and the brain is far quicker to find solutions, resolve and motivation to keep going when you do that.

It may feel like madness to do something you love, however, it can be a powerful way to help you find solutions to the fears you face in life.

8. Assume the Worst

If you read the statement from the client above. Notice how they assumed it was wrong to fill the bath up to the top? How bubbly is only for special occasions?

Think how naughty they felt to be doing something that was not allowed? Think about what age it may have made them feel?Think about how they feel about champagne? What special moments it’s been a part of in their lives?

And you can see how the assumptions they made about their “right” to have these things was not healthy.

When I drag the assumptions out of people’s words for them to see, they are often struck by how negative the words make them feel.

Don’t assume your words aren’t impacting on you. You can go through fear and actually enjoy the ride when you take the time to understand how you are letting words get to you.

9. Take a Fear That Feels Insurmountable Right Now

If you were to repeat it to me out loud, what would you say?

Would you have blame on yourself in there? Would you assume others can do it and it’s just you? Would you feel small, unsuccessful, useless, unworthy?

Usually, when you do this exercise, you are able to spot the untruths that run wild in your head, convincing you that you are doomed. And rarely when we are faced with our assumptions is there is a lot of evidence to them.

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10. You Are Not Defined by Your Fear

One fear does not define your life – be mindful of that. It is likely to lead you to thinking of all the times you’ve succeeded and bring a moment of calm, confidence and faith back to you.

11. Go with Fear

When you learn to go with fear, you could find yourself actually having fun, no seriously – having fun.

I have a few amazing clients I’m working with right now who would describe themselves as life long worriers, or pessimists. In the past, that has served them well, enabling them to keep safe, steer clear of risks and even develop strategies in the event of disasters. However, now they find it’s becoming hard to break the cycle and they really want to because it’s holding them back.

Notice how they’ve found their hidden fears and want to face them?

One client said “I knew this was going to be tough, and I knew I couldn’t fight it alone and I knew you would be the one to help me.” Before, I sat an incredibly successful, confident, capable business owner with a family and a social life to die for.

However, I’ve learned that the most successful looking lives can hide things that impact on life, success, love, happiness and business.

We didn’t start with the fear that they felt was holding them back, we broke the fear down, and found lots of little obstacles that had been deemed as “life” and “unchangeable” and “that’s just the way it is” by developing awareness to the little steps on the road to their obstacles to happiness and success they were able to tackle them in a different way.

12. Discover Great Skills in Your Scary Moments

And in that client’s words, “I came here to work with you to grow my company, and my own personal skills. I didn’t expect to get the children to be cleaning up after themselves and my partner being more attentive! It all feels a little magic.”

The moral is that out of the scariest of moments, we can find great skills we didn’t know we had. Find better, healthier, happier ways to live and find ways to enjoy life more. (And have a bit of magic!)

What a great place to be in ready for the next fear that thinks it’s going to get in the way of you, right?

13. Own Your Fear

Think back over these tips and come up with at least one example for each one. Write them down. Put them on your phone. Turn them into a piece of art. Turn them into a poem. Frame them. Go for a fast walk across the fields, beach, down town and repeat these things in your head to the sound of your feet on the ground.

We rarely take the time to appreciate how far we have come, how much we can achieve or what we are capable of – by really owning the tips in this article, you will have given your brain a big fat dose of “Damn right! I can do this!” and the motivation and accountability to say “Let’s find a way” through any fear.

You can’t help but feel good when you see that, can you? And fear doesn’t stand a chance, does it?

More Resources About Fighting Fear

Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com

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