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6 Ways Pets Help Prevent Relapse

15 August 2016 Written by 

 Anything that helps recovery is valuable, but animals (dogs, birds, fish, horses, cats) are like super foods when it comes to mental health and healing. Here are 6 ways pets can help avoid relapse.

1. Pets Never Shame You

People in recovery often feel a lot of shame. Pets love you no matter what you've done in your life. They don't judge. They just give love and are excited to see you no matter what. Receiving love from a pet can make your day. Every day. One study showed that quiet time with pets make people feel less lonely. And loneliness is another common feeling among people in recovery. 

2. Pets Change The Way We Act

We may have had a terrible day, may want to hurt others because we are in recovery. May want to lash out at others, swear, and curse. Let's face it, we aren't always so nice. But look at what a pet does. A wagging tail, a kiss, a face happy to see you when you walk in the door can have you cooing with delight in a second. Quick mood change, and you're giving treats instead of mouthing off at someone (or beating yourself up). We calm down when we are with our pets. We slow our breath, our speech, our minds. We don’t lash out or swear as much. And dare we say it, make us happy.

3. Pets Are Fun To Watch And Distract Us

All those YouTube videos show that people love to interact with their animals and record their every antic. And we love to watch them. Pets in person are even better. They take us out of our heads and into another reality — one that only involves food, water, affection. People in recovery need distractions from the tapes running in their heads, from loneliness, depression, and the wish to revert to old habits. Distraction is one of the best therapies. It’s tough to ruminate about how awful you feel, and will feel forever, when your pet is all over you.

4. Pets Make Us Connect Physically

The healing power of touch is undisputed. Research reveals that a 45-minute massage can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and optimize your immune system by building white blood cells. Hugging floods our bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and heart rates. And, according to a University of Virginia study, holding hands can reduce the stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, part of our emotional center. Touch can actually stop certain regions of the brain from responding to threat clues. It’s not surprising, then, that stroking a pet can lower blood pressure and heart rate and boost levels of serotonin and dopamine. Touch helps on every level.

5. Pets Promote Responsibility

Responsibility promotes mental health. And pets require a lot of attention and a lot of care. We know many cases of substance abusers who went into treatment when they could no longer care for their animals. We hear about people every day whose pets in recovery keep them busy, craving free and sane. Positive psychologists assert that we build our self-esteem by taking ownership of a task, by applying our skills to a job. When we succeed — i.e., the pet is still alive the next day — we reinforce to ourselves that we are capable of caring for something, even ourselves. 

Taking care of a pet also brings structure to our day. Sleeping until noon is no longer a possibility unless you want to spend an hour cleaning up the next day. Staying out all night requires preparation and forethought.

6. Pets Lower Blood Pressure

Recovery is stressful. There are a lot of things to remember and do every day. You can feel panicked just thinking about getting to a meeting, calling people, getting to a job. Research shows that pet owners have significantly lower blood pressure and heart rates when dealing with difficult tasks. Blood pressure also drops when people pet animals, especially if it’s a pet they know and love. Petting can also bring improvement in a person’s immune system and ease pain. Pets bring joy, give meaning to life, and teach important skills.

Reach Out Recovery By Leslie Glass

Read 494 times Last modified on Friday, 04 November 2016 18:02
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Leslie Glass

Leslie Glass is the winner of the American Society of Addiction Medicine 2016 Media Award for her groundbreaking documentary "The Secret World Of Recovery." She is a journalist, playwright, the author of 15 novels and the founder of Reach Out Recovery. She is the producer/director of "The Secret World Of Recovery," and the teen addiction prevention documentary "The Silent Majority" which was distributed by American Public Television to all PBS stations in 2015. Leslie is currently developing more websites and technology to further the recovery and healthy living cause.
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