4 Surprising Benefits of Having Pets

having pets at home

Anyone who has ever dozed off on a Sunday afternoon with a warm kitten purring on their chest or thrown a ball for a happy, clumsy dog who faithfully returns it again and again knows the joy our pets can bring us on a daily basis. For millions of people, pets introduce a circle of love: we love them, they love us, and we are both better off. And there’s more – not only are pets adorable, but they’re actually pretty good for our physical and mental health, too. If you don’t have a pet and have considered adopting one, here are four good reasons to go ahead and take the plunge.

1. Pets make it easier to stay fit

If your favorite gym is closed right now because of the pandemic (or if you’d just rather not take the risk), a dog offers a fantastic solution to working off those extra quarantine calories. Your pup needs exercise, too, so take her along on a walk, jog, hike, or swim a few times a week. If you have a trail near your home, your feet and your dog’s alike will appreciate the softer surface. Even a game of fetch in the backyard is better than couch potato-ing for yet another hour. As an added bonus, dogs who get outdoors for a daily walk tend to be healthier, happier, calmer, and better-behaved in general.

2. Pets are great for your mental health

Not only are pets known to offer unconditional love (even those “special” cats who offer it only on their terms), but they also help give their owners a sense of purpose. Your pets can help combat feelings of loneliness and sadness by providing companionship, giving your overall mood a boost. This benefit is particularly apparent among groups of people who are prone to depression, such as the sick or elderly. There’s a reason that so many hospitals and nursing homes employ pet-facilitated therapy for their patients!

3. Pets can help relieve pain

Amazingly, your pet can actually provide pain relief for you. A growing body of evidence suggests that pets are helpful for people with chronic pain, such as those with spine conditions, traumatic injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, or physically demanding jobs. Our pets give us a reason to get out of bed in the morning and also help keep us moving – and staying active is key to managing chronic pain. Keep in mind that inactivity and pain can become a vicious cycle, so as long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, staying active with your pet is a great way to manage pain and preserve mobility.

4. Pets help improve heart health

There’s even more good news for people who love their furry friends. It appears that pet ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Now, correlation does not prove causation – but it does indicate that having a pet may be a smart move for people who want to lower their overall risk as much as possible. There are several possible reasons for the relationship between owning a pet and having a healthier heart. For instance, dog owners tend to get more exercise than people who don’t have dogs, relaxing with a pet is very calming, and playing with/petting/talking to your best friend is a great stress management technique.

Whatever your reason for wanting a pet, it’s clear that you’ll likely be better off with one than without one. If you’re in a position to take care of a dog or cat properly and you could use a little more companionship in your life, now’s as good a time as any to add pet adoption to your to-do list.

Photo by Tranmautritam from Pexels

How to Be Happy in an Unhappy World

how to be happy

Do you ever feel like the world around you is just full of… unhappiness? That’s because it is. According to the CDC, in 2017, 479,000 Americans visited emergency departments for self-inflicted injuries. 47,173 committed suicide the same year, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the US (after health conditions such as heart disease and cancer as well as accidents). In 2018, nearly 20% of American adults experienced some form of mental illness; almost as many kids (ages six to 17) dealt with a mental health disorder themselves.

And these numbers are the extremes; they don’t even account for the millions of people who simply feel low-key unhappy from day to day. Sadness, stress, frustration, it’s all there bubbling under the surface, and it’s not hard to see why, especially given the current state of the world. From the pandemic to the protests, from impeachment trials to “murder hornets,” 2020 has been a tumultuous year, to say the least.

And yet, happiness is just as accessible as it has always been.

I recently watched a documentary called On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace. (It’s on Netflix as I write this if you’re interested.) This film, based on the photographer Michael O’Neill’s book of the same name, follows O’Neill as he travels the world to meet and talk with the great Yoga masters from India to Tibet to New York. The entire documentary was inspiring to me (not to mention visually beautiful), and it got me thinking about inner peace (a phrase at which I’ve previously rolled my eyes). But one concept in particular struck a personal chord. I’ll paraphrase:

Happiness, health, joy, and peace are already inside you. Instead of blaming outside influences for making you unhappy, ask yourself what you’re doing that is interfering with your own innate happiness.

What are you doing that is interfering with your own natural joy? What would you like to stop doing to give yourself more free time, to relieve you of an ongoing burden, or to improve your life in some small or big way?

The truth is that we have a good deal of control over how we spend our time and with whom we spend it, but we can get “stuck in a rut” and start believing that there is no way out. With that in mind, remember that things will never be different unless you make different choices. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you make a move toward the elusive and life-changing “inner peace.”

1. Go outside. There’s nothing like fresh air to boost your mood. Don’t have an hour to recline on the patio reading a book? Sit on the steps for 20 minutes – or stand outside your back door for five. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or time-consuming – simply take yourself outside and breathe. You might be surprised how five minutes of enjoying the sunrise can set the tone for your entire day.

2. Sleep more. Nothing drains happiness like fatigue. Sleep helps your body recover and repair itself after a day of use. It also refreshes your mind and helps you focus and be more productive the next day. Being sleep-deprived also makes you more susceptible to negative emotions. If you are one of the many people just not getting quite enough sleep, it’s time to make it a priority.

3. Exercise. I know, I know. If you don’t enjoy exercise, it can be incredibly hard to make it a regular part of your routine. But it’s key to enduring happiness. The good news is that you don’t need much to significantly impact your mood. Check out the science-based New York Times 7-Minute Workout – everyone has seven minutes! Or, maximize your time by combining exercise with fresh air and going for a quick walk on your lunch break. Your body, mind, and mood will all thank you.

4. Spend time with your family and friends. Did you know that not staying in touch with friends is one of the top five regrets that dying people have? Your social health and relationships are extremely important to your overall well-being. Even introverts need some time with the people they care about. So, take a minute to respond to that text, email, or phone call, and make an effort to get together with the people who matter to you once in a while.

Changing how you approach your daily life and being intentional about how you spend your time can make a huge difference in your overall happiness. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy, but it does have to take some. Find the places in your life where you can “declutter,” so to speak, and replace what you’ve been doing with something that makes you happy. When you have a solid foundation of joy, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the next unhappy event that 2020 (or any other year) throws at us.

Photo by Andre Furtado from Pexels

Can Music Help Your Mental Health?

 

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