Many people experience deep and lasting bonds with their pets. A favorite animal not only can feel like a real member of your family, but can lift up your spirits by making you laugh you feel down, can engage with you in a joy-filled way that makes you feel loved, and give moments of cuteness to your day.
For some, few things in life can deliver more joy than playing with a dog, cat, or other beloved animal. Nearly everyone with a favorite pet finds that the animal can lift their spirits, give feelings of intimacy, and make hard things in their day easier to endure.
For some people coping with mental illness, mood disorders, or past trauma, the benefits of bonding with an animal can be even stronger, so that the animal can become an important part of the healing process. Here are the ways that animals can have therapeutic benefits, and facts to help you determine if animal-assisted therapy is right for you.
Scientific research is just beginning to catch up to what many devoted pet owners suspected intuitively - that animals can form real and mutually beneficial relationships with humans, and these can have some surprising benefits for your mental and physical health.At a children's hospital,the presence of dogs, birds, and lizards has had amazing effects in reducing stress levels.
One of the earliest studies, published in 1984 found that simply petting a dog can reduce blood pressure. In particular, pleasant interactions with a loving animal increases levels of oxytocin, a hormone that brings on happy, trusting feelings. Oxytocin also helps prepare the mind and body, creating a state of readiness for healing, because it allows the cells to support their own health.
A Good Animal Therapist:
Sometimes, meeting with a therapist, and working through your healing process can be very stressful. You are going through a lot of difficult introspective work, diving into the most vulnerable parts of yourself.
Even if you try not to, the part of your brain afraid of other people's judgement can easily make you clam up, feel stressed, or be too overwhelmed to fully commit to your healing journey. In this context, a gentle animal can be tremendously helpful. A animal can easily fly under your radar, making you feel more at ease and relaxed, creating a sense of safety which in turn makes it easier for you to get in touch with your true emotional self.
While almost any dog, cat, bird, or other animal may be capable of bringing a life-giving smile to your face, therapeutic animals are specifically trained and registered to truly be supportive and helpful for you. A good therapy animal should be well-tempered and trained to control its own emotions, to be able to help your crises rather than contribute to them.
They should be well-socialized and able to respond well to a wide variety of people and situations. Above all, they should be especially bonded with you and be aware of your own moods. At times you find yourself panicking, feeling down, or otherwise in need of help, your friend can be trained to help cheer you up.
It is important to point out this exciting field is still very new, and not fully scientifically tested. More studies need to be done to be able to fully verify what kinds of animal-human interaction provides real therapeutic benefits, and why.
At the same time, whatever gives you moments of relief, joy, and connection in life can be an important part of your personal healing journey. The happiness from seeing and playing with an animal can bring your attention back on the joy of the present moment, in a way that can help you be gentle with yourself and appreciative of the goodness around you. So even a seemingly insignificant moment that brings a smile to your face can be enormously healing.
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