Monday 22 October 2018

Guess What De-Stresses Us and Increases Our Wellbeing All in One Go?


I've just finished co-writing a new book with Dr. Zachary White (of The Unprepared Caregiver Blog) - it's titled The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation of Loved One to Caregiver and it will be out June 8, 2019! In our book, I've included a chapter on pets - how being in the proximity of animals can reduce social isolation, give us happiness and even health benefits. If you are interested in how pets might enhance your caregiving life, have a look at this wonderful charity - Pet Partners.  And read this inspiring guest blog post by Michael O'Keefe of His original, extended article appeared HERE. - Donna

Isolation is a natural reaction to depression and grief. If you’re in the depths of depression, it can be hard to pick up the phone and call a friend. If you’ve lost of a loved one, lost your good health, or lost a relationship, you may pull inward and grieve alone.
But just because isolation is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Isolation can create a spiral of despair. Depression and grief cause people to cut themselves off from friends and family, which in turn causes more depression and grief, and so on.
Talk therapy and medications are the standard treatments for these states of mind. Recent research, however, points to another way to help people escape that spiral. It’s been called the pet effect. Simply put, being around animals helps people feel less isolated, depressed, and grief-stricken.

The Pet Effect: It’s Real
Steven Feldman, the Executive Director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute and a contributor to the website of the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, has written that 
Positive human-animal interaction is related to the changes in physiological variables both in humans and animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain. Science demonstrates that these biological responses have measurable clinical effects.
In layman’s terms, people under stress feel better when there’s an animal around.
Some aspects of the pet effect are a mixture of the psychological and the physiological. The Human/Animal Pain Interaction Research Team at the University of Calgary is especially concerned with the question of how people with chronic pain benefit from being pet parents. Led by Eloise Carr, PhD and Jean E. Wallace, PhD, the team looks at the way physical pain, psychological anguish, and dog ownership interact with each other. Living with chronic pain often leads to depression, which in turn makes the experience of the physical pain more psychologically intolerable. But as Dr. Wallace says
Even if we can’t reduce the pain, if we can reduce depression and improve mental health, there are benefits in terms of looking at how you get up in the morning and want to do things. Some people we interviewed were suicidal; they were thinking about taking their own lives but what stopped them was having a dog and having to care for that creature. Having a dog is so central to giving them a meaning and purpose.
People who live in assisted care facilities also benefit from the pet effect. Dogs and other animals have become welcomed, regular visitors--and even residents--in nursing homes. This isn't surprising. Anyone who's ever taken a Golden Retriever into a nursing home or hospice knows what joy they bring to the residents there.

According to, there are three general types of pet therapy in elder care settings:

Visitation therapy, where animals (usually cats and dogs) visit nursing homes periodically
Animal-assisted therapy, where highly sensitive animals are paired with patients who require intensive rehabilitation; and
Ownership therapy, where residents take full charge of caring for a pet.

One nursing home study found that "dog-assisted therapy addressed some of the unmet needs of participants by providing meaningful activity, stimulation, pleasurable social interaction, and comfort through physical contact." As Jay P. Granat, PhD, a University of Michigan-trained psychotherapist, puts it
Dogs - and other pets - live very much in the here and now. They don't worry about tomorrow. And tomorrow can be very scary for an older person. By having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people.

Animals on the Healer Team

Mood disorders, chronic pain, and grief are complicated and serious conditions. No one would seriously suggest that people should replace psychiatric, psychological, and medical treatment with puppies—or plants. Rather, treating these conditions is now recognized as a team effort. Doctors and counselors play a role, just as family members and friends do. But animals can be important team members as well.
Evolutionary biologists teach us that dogs evolved alongside humans. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, they became very good at reading human feelings. Their survival often depended on it. Today, that psychological understanding is helping people cope during dark episodes of their lives. Animals have earned their place alongside other healers. We shouldn’t hesitate to turn to them for help.

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