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By Lisa Caplan

If you have a pet, you already know how therapeutic they can be. I’m not suggesting  you run out and get a pet, because pets are a lot of responsibility, but if you have a pet, recognizing that they can improve your mood and wellbeing is important.

I know that when I am feeling tired or overwhelmed my dog and cat often help me cope. My dog, Teddy, motivates me to get up and play with him, take him for a walk, or for a car ride. Once I’m up, I’m not as tired, and often find I have the energy to accomplish more. My cat, Smokey likes to snuggle, which is very comforting. The two of them make me smile. Animals, and not just ones trained for therapy, are good for your overall well being.

Here are some reasons why your pet is good for your mental, physical and spiritual health:

  1. They help you stay in the moment. When you spend time with your pet you are in the present, and being in the moment is calming. There is a lot of talk these days about Mindfulness, which is just a fancy word for being in the moment. Focusing on what we are doing at the moment reduces stress.
  2. They get you up and moving. It’s so easy to be a couch potato, but having a pet forces you to get up to feed, play with or walk them. My grandmother used to say, “if you don’t keep moving, you don’t keep moving.” Movement helps to decrease certain medical ailments, strengthen your body, and can lift your spirit and mood.
  3. They get you outside. Fresh air, sunshine and nature are a great way to feed your spirit, reduce your stress, and keep you physically healthy. Next time you are outside with your pet try to focus on what is going on around you. Listen to the birds or the wind rustling the trees or pay attention to your walking. This is a great way to focus on the here and now.
  4. They don’t talk back. Sometimes we just need someone to listen.
  5. They reduce loneliness. If you don’t like to be alone, a pet can be a good companion. They often recognize when we are feeling sad or lonely, and seek us out.
  6. They provide unconditional love. Pets don’t care what you look like or what mood you are in. They love you no matter what. The tail wagging, greeting you at the door, and attention they give says it all.
  7. Petting has been shown to reduce stress and increase oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that helps to reduce stress and anxiety. Rhythmic petting can be very therapeutic, calming and helpful to someone who is anxious. My daughter is in college and received a letter that someone in her dorm has a therapy cat. I had never heard of a therapy cat, but it makes sense.
  8. They lighten things up. Dogs just want to be with you, snuggle or play. They bring out the kid in us. Throwing a ball with your dog can be fun.
  9. They make it hard to isolate. Taking your dog to training or a dog park or just for a walk gives you an opportunity to meet people who also like dogs and gives you an immediate connection.
  10. They can give you purpose. I have had clients who have been depressed tell me it is their dog that has given them purpose. It has helped them focus on something else that needs their care.
  11. They make you smile. They can be very silly which will make you laugh and smile. Watching my pets, playing with them, and loving them will put a smile on my face anyday.

Having a pet is a huge decision and continuous responsibility, which requires care, love, time, and money. A pet can’t solve all your problems, but if you have given serious thought to getting a pet, then hopefully it will bring some joy to your life.

For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors throughout Maryland. Jim Quinn, Lawyer Assistance Director, (443) 703-3041, jim@msba.org; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Associate Director of the Lawyer Assistance Program, (443) 703-3042, lisa@msba.org.  Toll Free 1(888) 388-5459.

 

Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 20 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma.