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Pets Can Help Owners Deal With Depression

October 13, 2018

Throughout our lives, we all have our share of ups and downs, good and bad. The world of today is faster moving, more intense, and people can be more focused and self absorbed. Not all, but we are certainly living in a different society than that of the ’50s. As a result, we might often find ourselves being more stressed, less confident, isolated, lonely, and even depressed. Our pets can be a very important link to what is genuine and good. They are a constant source of love, companionship and support. Pets offer unconditional love, which can be extraordinarily soothing when feeling isolated. In a recent survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 74 percent of pet owners said having a pet improved their mental health. A bridge over troubled waters Many years ago, my brother suddenly and tragically passed away. It was shocking to think that my big brother was gone, and it was nearly impossible for me to successfully function each day. But at that time, my Cairn Terrier, Toby, was six months old, the same age as Swayze is now. Being young and active, Toby required much of my time and attention. Despite the fact that I felt unable to put one foot in front of the other, I had to care for Toby each day. It was necessary for me to feed Toby, walk him, and play with him. Despite the fact that I felt so horrible, both emotionally and physically, Toby forced me to move. Toby was blissfully unaware of the tragic loss that we had suffered. Toby’s innocence and joy in his every day world slowly began to permeate my very being, and I slowly began to heal. A loyal companion In Toby’s senior years, he became my mother’s constant companion. My Mom was homebound due to her physical limitations. She had to adjust to less social interaction and long days at home while I worked. Toby never left her side. Mom could make it to the front porch, where she and Toby would sit and wait for my arrival home each day. How I love those homecomings, with Mom sitting in her rocker and Toby standing at the gate, tail madly wagging. Our pets are very intuitive to our emotions. They recognize when we are stressed and want to calm us, and when we are sick they strive to comfort us. With my recent hospitalization, my recovery was agonizingly slow. I was very weak and wobbly. But puppy Swayze also required my time and attention. Swayze got me moving as I slowly regained my strength and stability. The puppy was an integral part of my recovery. Then there is my little guardian angel in fur, Smudge. Smudge sleeps all night, every night, pressed against me. He is my cuddle bunny, my little teddy bear. When I squeeze him, he grunts. Feeling his warm little body is such a source of comfort to me, and his nightly presence allows me to rest after a stressful day at work, and mentally prepares me for the challenges of the following day. A dog helps you to shake off feelings of worthlessness. When your dog looks up at you with those loving eyes, it is hard to feel inadequate. Animals are very connected in ways that people are not. A regular schedule, knowing you have to feed, walk, or care for your pet can give you a sense of purpose and routine. Knowing that our pets are depending on us can help us make it through the day. A sense of calm: Pets have a relaxing effect. Petting or stroking an animal can improve your mood. Even the sound of a cat purring can be soothing. Studies with therapy dogs suggest even brief interactions ease anxiety and fear, says Sandra Barker, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University. In a recent survey, people with severe depression felt more relaxed, less lonely, and had less pain after short visits with a therapy dog. A reason to get moving Pet owners tend to get more exercise than people without pets. If you have a dog, for example, you’re more likely to go out for walks. Exercise is good for managing depression. Even being outside for short periods can elevate your mood. Depression might make you want to avoid other people, but pets can open up your world. Studies suggest pets help you get to know people, spark friendships, and build your support network. I remember years ago when I was planning to get my first Cairn Terrier, Casey. My good friend suggested that getting a dog would make me more introverted and reclusive with people. Nothing could have been further from the truth. That dog opened up a whole new world to me in the most positive way. I met like-minded people and began training and doing performance in the show ring, something I never, never would have predicted would happen for me. And this became my lifetime passion. Try these tips What to do with your pet: Try these tips to get the most benefits to your mental health from owning a pet: • Pick the right pet. Before you choose one, decide how much time, energy, and money you have for it. • Dogs are good companions, but they are relatively high-maintenance. If you have limited time or physical problems, an older or more independent animal may be a better fit. • Cats are typically lower-maintenance. A small animal like a hamster takes up little space and can still be cheerful. • Interact often. Play with your animal. Pet and massage her. The more you do, the better you may feel. The act of giving can be very therapeutic. • Get up and go. Be active with your pet. Take your dog for walks. Bring your pet along to meet up with others. The simple act of doing more can alleviate depressive symptoms. • If you don’t have a pet, get involved with other people’s animals. Offer to dog-sit for a friend. Play with a neighbor’s cat. This helps keep up your contact with other people too, which is an added benefit. A pet won’t make your symptoms vanish, but it may give you a healthy boost. First and foremost, if you are feeling depressed, always consult a professional. Love on your pet. It is great medicine!! Dog bless. Resource: WebMD Judy Endo writes about pets. Contact her at judyendo@outlook.com.

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