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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 November 20, 2018

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

A new year beautifully symbolizes a new chapter opening in the book that is your life. But while so many people like you aspire to achieve ambitious goals, only 12% of you will ever experience the taste of victory. Sound bad? It is. 156 million people (that’s 156,000,000) will probably give up on their resolution before you can say “confetti.” Keep on reading to learn why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to succeed).

Note: Since losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, I chose to focus on weight loss (but these principles can be applied to just about any goal you think of — make it work for you!).

1. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.

Slow and steady habit change might not be sexy, but it’s a lot more effective than the “I want it ALL and I want it NOW!” mentality. Small changes stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you’ll barely even notice them!).

If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight. Want to lose weight? Stop it with the crash diets and excessive exercise plans. Instead of following a super restrictive plan that bans anything fun, add one positive habit per week. For example, you could start with something easy like drinking more water during your first week. The following week, you could move on to eating 3 fruits and veggies every day. And the next week, you could aim to eat a fistful of protein at every meal.

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2. You put the cart before the horse.

“Supplementing” a crappy diet is stupid, so don’t even think about it. Focus on the actions that produce the overwhelming amount of results. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it.

3. You don’t believe in yourself.

A failure to act can cripple you before you leave the starting line. If you’ve tried (and failed) to set a New Year’s resolution (or several) in the past, I know it might be hard to believe in yourself. Doubt is a nagging voice in your head that will resist personal growth with every ounce of its being. The only way to defeat doubt is to believe in yourself. Who cares if you’ve failed a time or two? This year, you can try again (but better this time).

4. Too much thinking, not enough doing.

The best self-help book in the world can’t save you if you fail to take action. Yes, seek inspiration and knowledge, but only as much as you can realistically apply to your life. If you can put just one thing you learn from every book or article you read into practice, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

5. You’re in too much of a hurry.

If it was quick-and-easy, everybody would do it, so it’s in your best interest to exercise your patience muscles.

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6. You don’t enjoy the process.

Is it any wonder people struggle with their weight when they see eating as a chore and exercise as a dreadful bore? The best fitness plan is one that causes the least interruption to your daily life. The goal isn’t to add stress to your life, but rather to remove it.

The best of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do something we hate consistently, so make getting in shape fun, however you’ve gotta do it. That could be participating in a sport you love, exercising with a good friend or two, joining a group exercise class so you can meet new people, or giving yourself one “free day” per week where you forget about your training plan and exercise in any way you please.

7. You’re trying too hard.

Unless you want to experience some nasty cravings, don’t deprive your body of pleasure. The more you tell yourself you can’t have a food, the more you’re going to want it. As long as you’re making positive choices 80-90% of the time, don’t sweat the occasional indulgence.

8. You don’t track your progress.

Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an “I CAN do this” attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time. Improving your best performance on a regular basis offers positive feedback that will encourage you to keep going.

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9. You have no social support.

It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel alone. The good news? You’re not alone: far from it. Post a status on Facebook asking your friends if anybody would like to be your gym or accountability buddy. If you know a co-worker who shares your goal, try to coordinate your lunch time and go out together so you’ll be more likely to make positive decisions. Join a support group of like-minded folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere on the internet. Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.

10. You know your what but not your why.

The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail: you know what you want but you not why you want it.

Yes: you want to get fit, lose weight, or be healthy… but why is your goal important to you? For example:

Do you want to be fit so you can be a positive example that your children can admire and look up to?

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Do you want to lose fat so you’ll feel more confident and sexy in your body than ever before?

Do you want to be healthy so you’ll have increased clarity, energy, and focus that would carry over into every single aspect of your life?

Whether you’re getting in shape because you want to live longer, be a good example, boost your energy, feel confident, have an excuse to buy hot new clothes, or increase your likelihood of getting laid (hey, I’m not here to judge) is up to you. Forget about any preconceived notions and be true to yourself.

  • The more specific you can make your goal,
  • The more vivid it will be in your imagination,
  • The more encouraged you’ll be,
  • The more likely it is you will succeed (because yes, you CAN do this!).

I hope this guide to why New Year’s resolutions fail helps you achieve your goals this year. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to some friends so they can be successful just like you. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

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