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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 May 15, 2019

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

As it appears, the human mind is not capable of not thinking, at least on the subconscious level. Our mind is always occupied by thoughts, whether we want to or not, and they influence our every action.

“Happiness cannot come from without, it comes from within.” – Helen Keller

When we are still children, our thoughts seem to be purely positive. Have you ever been around a 4-year old who doesn’t like a painting he or she drew? I haven’t. Instead, I see glee, exciting and pride in children’s eyes. But as the years go by, we clutter our mind with doubts, fears and self-deprecating thoughts.

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Just imagine then how much we limit ourselves in every aspect of our lives if we give negative thoughts too much power! We’ll never go after that job we’ve always wanted because our nay-saying thoughts make us doubt our abilities. We’ll never ask that person we like out on a date because we always think we’re not good enough.

We’ll never risk quitting our job in order to pursue the life and the work of our dreams because we can’t get over our mental barrier that insists we’re too weak, too unimportant and too dumb. We’ll never lose those pounds that risk our health because we believe we’re not capable of pushing our limits. We’ll never be able to fully see our inner potential because we simply don’t dare to question the voices in our head.

But enough is enough! It’s time to stop these limiting beliefs and come to a place of sanity, love and excitement about life, work and ourselves.

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So…how exactly are we to achieve that?

It’s not as hard as it may seem; you just have to practice, practice, practice. Here are a few ideas on how you can get started.

1. Learn to substitute every negative thought with a positive one.

Every time a negative thought crawls into your mind, replace it with a positive thought. It’s just like someone writes a phrase you don’t like on a blackboard and then you get up, erase it and write something much more to your liking.

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2. See the positive side of every situation, even when you are surrounded by pure negativity.

This one is a bit harder to put into practice, which does not mean it’s impossible.

You can find positivity in everything by mentally holding on to something positive, whether this be family, friends, your faith, nature, someone’s sparkling eyes or whatever other glimmer of beauty. If you seek it, you will find it.

3. At least once a day, take a moment and think of 5 things you are grateful for.

This will lighten your mood and give you some perspective of what is really important in life and how many blessings surround you already.

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4. Change the mental images you allow to enter your mind.

How you see yourself and your surroundings make a huge difference to your thinking. It is like watching a DVD that saddens and frustrates you, completely pulling you down. Eject that old DVD, throw it away and insert a new, better, more hopeful one instead.

So, instead of dwelling on dark, negative thoughts, consciously build and focus on positive, light and colorful images, thoughts and situations in your mind a few times a day.

If you are persistent and keep on working on yourself, your mind will automatically reject its negative thoughts and welcome the positive ones.

And remember: You are (or will become) what you think you are. This is reason enough to be proactive about whatever is going on in your head.

Featured photo credit: Kyaw Tun via unsplash.com

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