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Animal Magnetism: The Benefits Of Living With Animals

“They show us what’s missing in our lives, and how to love ourselves completely and unconditionally. They connect us back to who we are, and to the purpose of why we’re here.”- Trisha McCagh

For most of mankind’s history, humans have had an intimate connection with animals. Humans lived with animals, relied on animals for food, power, warmth, and fuel. The kidshuman species would never have survived and thrived without a mutual coexistence with animals. Prior to the early 20th century, human existence was intertwined with those of animals. It is only in the last hundred years that we have become disconnected from the animal world. While modern man, in his arrogance, considers this to be “progress,” it is actually quite the opposite. There are lots of health and wellness benefits that have been lost by distancing ourselves from the rest of planet Earth’s creatures.

Humans and animals share humans and animals share a mutual history. Humans would not have survived without this relationship between man and beast. For thousands of years humans have relied on animals for food, clothing, tools, fuel, guidance, comfort, and emotional support. This relationship has not always been mutually beneficial, nor could it be. The reality of nature is that life consumes life, with most animals eating the flesh of lesser creatures. Primitive man would not have developed the brain capacity required for survival without the benefits of consuming animal protein. During the Neolithic Age, man learned to domesticate animals, use fire to make animal flesh more palatable, and reaped the benefits of greater brain capacity and intellectual development from the consumption of a consistent source of protein. Without our brains and intelligence, we humans are merely ill prepared primates with little hope of survival. Man’s improved brain power enabled him to harness the potential of animals by using bones for tools and weapons, the skins for clothing and building material, and dung for fuel. Animals lived intimately with man, sharing mutual living space. Animals were a part of the tribe and animals and humans shared the common experiences of birth, life, work, and ultimately, death.

The Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century changed this. Industrial society in the last 100 years has grown distant from the animal world and is now suffering the results. Earlier generations, although intimately connected with animals, did not take them for granted nor did they personify or idealize them. There was a greater understanding of the nature of life for both humans and animals. Living among animals is a constant reminder of the rhythm of nature, the endless flow of birth, life, death, and rebirth. While this way of life may sound primitive or barbaric to those of us living in the anesthetized 21st century, it may just be a healthier, interesting, and perhaps a more spiritually connected way of living.

A recent trend in mental health treatment is the utilization of “therapy animals” as a method of connecting people to emotions, empathy, and feeling supported. Animals of all kinds of species are trained, certified, and approved as therapeutic tools for humans who are suffering. Dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, reptiles, you name it, all are providing mental health benefits for thousands of people. Here are some of the health benefits of therapy animals:

⦁    Positive interactions with pets has been proven to lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and lessen anxiety. It can also have a positive impact on depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and virtually all types of emotional distress.
⦁    Petting and handling pets reduces stress. Physical contact in an affectionate way releases oxytocin in the human brain, a hormone that is associated with stress reduction and lower levels of cortisol. Too much cortisol not only creates stress, it also is a major factor in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
⦁    Animal care has multiple health benefits. Animals can get you outside and make you more physically active. You may be struggling to follow a program of daily walking. Your dog is not likely to tolerate your not following through on this. In addition, the daily care required by any pet not only gives you a positive routine, but it also can be somewhat physical and provides moderate exercise.
⦁    Animals create a sense of connectedness. Being able to interact with a living thing is an essential part of emotional health. If you own a pet or farm animals, you intuitively know this. You talk to them and they, in their own way, talk back through behavior, gestures, expressions, and a host of ways. These interactions are important to our mental health.
luigi⦁    Contact with animals improves our immune systems. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, in the last two generations there has been an increase in common allergies among children and adolescents. While many studies cite the overuse of antibiotics and sterilization processes, there is developing research that indicates our disconnection with animals as being another possible factor. If you have pets, or even have ever visited a farm, you know that being around animals is occasionally a dirty business. Dirty, but beneficial to health.
⦁    Animal care teaches us empathy. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals. If you’re a dog owner, you’ve seen this repeated over and over again. In many prisons animal care is part of the rehabilitation of violent criminals. Sociopathic and criminal behavior is associated with a lack of empathy for fellow humans. Prisoners who groom and train animals develop a connection from interacting with a dependent, living being. This, for many violent offenders, is the only positive interaction they have ever had with a living creature. It can also teach them discipline, routine, and what it feels like to have someone rely on you in a positive way.
⦁    Animals remind us of the true nature of life. Most animals have a much shorter lifespan than humans. The death of a pet is a big part of many children’s development. If you remember pets that you’ve lost, or have ever gone through this process with your own children, you know how painful it is. Painful, but necessary and meaningful. Modern life has separated us from birth and death, with these incredibly meaningful events taking place away from our homes and occurring in institutions. Living with, and among, pets is a constant reminder of the cyclical nature of all life.
⦁    Animals keep us in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that many find elusive. The goal of any type of meditation is to stay focused in the present moment. If you own a dog or cat, it’s pretty simple. Do what they do. Spend time around either of these animals for a while and you’ll understand.
⦁    Animals help fight loneliness, isolation, and fear. If you’re a pet owner, you’re never really home alone when you have a pet. Just having that cat sitting on your windowsill can gronkbe comforting. Animals can be a way of lessening the feelings of isolation that can create depression and low self-esteem.
⦁    Animals can be a vital part of a child’s education. Children who grow up on farms are more likely to have a healthier understanding of birth, life, death, and sexuality merely by living the lifestyle. There also more likely to realize that you get out of life what you put in. Children raised in this environment having intimate connection with the food that they consume in a way that is healthy. For example, many believe that hunting and procuring meat yourself is somehow “animal cruelty,” yet it is perfectly acceptable to gorge on a McDonald’s burger or chicken McNuggets that come from animals that live short and brutal lives. Like a lot of things in the 21st century, things we find distasteful are relegated to others to do. Then, there is a tendency to look down upon those that do our dirty work.

A connection to animals is an often missing element of modern life. Our distance from the rest of the Earth’s creatures is not progress, but detrimental. Finding ways to stay connected with animals is healthy and therapeutic in a multitude of ways. Consorting with animals can make you a better human being.

anneboss“Maybe it’s animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting.” ― Carol Emshwiller

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Depression Hates A Moving Target : 7 Ways To Avoid Being Struck

“If you are in a bad mood go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood go for another walk.” – Hippocrates

Depression is often referred to as “the common cold of mental health issues.” Instances of clinical depression are increasing at the rate of 20% per year and it has a ripple effect dpressdacross all aspects of a person’s physical, as well as mental, well-being. It has been linked to obesity, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, and just about any other problem that a human can have. It is often accompanied by anxiety, a mental health issue that one third of Americans report dealing with on a regular basis. Despite the advances in medical treatment in the 21st century, depression and anxiety are increasing at a faster rate than any time in human history. It is more prominent in developed nations than in Third World countries, with one third of the population of the Western world meeting the criteria for major depressive disorder at least once during their lifetime. Many do not seek treatment, despite the fact that 60 to 80% of cases of anxiety and depression can be effectively treated with brief and structured forms of psychotherapy and medication. Researchers are beginning to realize that it is even more preventable than it is curable.

Depression is often accompanied by feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, hopelessness, and a feeling of being powerless. It is a mind-body experience where an individual’s total sense of being and self perception are profoundly impacted. Mind and body work together to not only create the depressive symptoms, but work in tandem to keep an individual in the depressed condition for as long as possible. Once a person becomes overwhelmed by depression, it has to be worked through at a rate that varies from person to person. Many do not seek treatment and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 34. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among American ages 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent. The largest increases were among men in their fifties, with rates rising nearly 50 percent, to 30 per 100,000. It appears that the more advanced our society becomes, the greater the instances of depression. Declining emotional wellness and depression related deaths are becoming the silent epidemic of 21st century life. Why? How is this possible that with all this knowledge, technology, and creature comforts?

 

The answer may well be it is because of all this technology and creature comfort. Mankind has lived a very different lifestyle since the latter part of the 20th century. Walking, for example, is no longer a method of transportation, it is a form of exercise. We have become anesthetized to events such as the beginning of life, death, terminal illness, and the procurement of food, as we have allowed other institutions and corporations to handle these difficult things for us. We don’t do a lot of our own chores anymore, in fact the activity of mowing your lawn one day a week is considered a big deal. We are less involved in the activities of life and are often spectators in activities that our ancestors had to do for themselves. We watch a genre of entertainment called “Reality TV,” in which we revel in the routine activities of other people. In short, we don’t move, we are less active, less involved, and have become spectators and observers of our own lives.

caneYour great grandparents were not immune to depression, in fact depression in their day was quite serious. Fewer people suffered from depression, but when they did it was far more debilitating and dangerous. The modern irony is that depression is more treatable and preventable than ever, yet a greater percentage of people are suffering from it at any time in human history. And, when depression hits, most look for a quick fix in the form of a medication from their primary care doctor, receiving temporary relief that is not a permanent solution.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”-Benjamin Franklin

So, what are some ways to prevent depression?

  1. MOVE! Modern man does not move anywhere near enough to enhanced physical or mental well-being. The modern solution to this is to drive in a vehicle to a gym, sit on machines or exercise bikes for less than 30 minutes of actual physical activity, and return home to a sedentary lifestyle.
  2. Use activity to prevent, cope with, and keep at bay symptoms of depression. When a person is depressed, the natural tendency is to become less active and withdraw into the internal world of thoughts rather than the external world of action. A person tells themselves stories, mostly negative, which soon take on a life of their own. These negative stories tell a person why they are feeling like they do, and the depressed feelings reaffirm a negative reality. For many, the negative reality created in their mind becomes their “truth,” shaping their view of the world and their very existence.
  3. Understand that human beings are evolutionarily programmed to be physical beings and that lack of movement and exercise in our daily lives are invitations for symptoms of depression. The more active the lifestyle, the less the tendency towards depression. An active lifestyle does not only mean formal exercise, but it can be things that you “have to do,” such as housework, laundry, mowing your lawn, working around your house or apartment, or preparing your own meals. These kinds of activities of daily living, when done yourself, create a sense of control, purpose, and efficacy that is hard to match with an exercise session with your personal trainer. By all means do that formal exercise, but don’t define your physicality merely by that.
  4. Have a eat, sleep, and movement, routines. Waking and sleeping at regular times gives your mind and body a sense of control and self-mastery, feelings that are inconsistent with the symptoms of depression.
  5. Have a movement practice that you engage in daily. It doesn’t have to be the same activity every day, but something needs to be done daily. Simple activities like walking your dog, stretching on the floor, making your bed, or cleaning the kitchen can be mindful and purposeful activities in the prevention of depression. Supplementing these simple things with formal movement practices such as yoga, martial arts, tai chi, or dance can keep you feeling more physically capable of movement. Depression hates a moving target and if you feel capable of motion you are a little ahead of the game.
  6. Become aware of your own, personal, depression patterns. We all have them, but we don’t always recognize them. Dwelling on thoughts that are depressing, negative people or situations, or even time of year or seasons, can trigger an episode of depression. Prevention, for all its hopefulness, cannot deter depression. It can make an episode of depression less debilitating and shorter in duration. I often remind my clients to “Get out of your head and into your body.” Movement can be grounding for those that are anxious and empowering to those who are slipping into depression.
  7. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help when needed. When needed, counseling should be your first choice, rather than seeing your primary care physician. Your PCP is going to talk to you for approximately 20 minutes-if you’re lucky-and is likely to prescribe a medication and nothing else. The medication will work in the short term, but depression will soon return as your lifestyle and coping skills have not improved. With serious depression the most effective treatment is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy supplemented with medication if necessary. I’ve written a number of QuickStart Guides on cognitive behavioral therapy that are available for instant download on Amazon.com:https://www.amazon.com/John-Sannicandro/e/B00LRJF0W6/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1474195380&sr=1-1 CBT can be both curative and preventive. It should be a life skill for anyone who hopes to prevent depression.

 

Remember the connection between inertia, negative thinking, and depression. We all have a tendency when depressed to be less physically active and more engrossed in our own thinking. We spend more time in our heads recollecting what we think happened, should have happened, and might happen. These kind of thinking patterns and personalization make depression our fault, often accompanied by feelings such as “I am a bad person,” or “my life is worthless and not living.” Deeply negative feelings are nurtured from the sense of powerlessness that inactivity creates. While the negative story may not entirely go away, it just may be something that you can learn to cope with.

Depression is much like the Buddhist tale of the Second Arrow. Life is the first arrow. We contortionist-archeryall will feel it’s sting from time to time. The first principle of Buddhism is that life is painful, and this pain is unavoidable, no one gets out alive. We are all going to suffer and feel bad from time to time. Depression is analogies to being struck by life’s second arrow. We feel bad about feeling bad, allowing ourselves to be struck by that second arrow of depression. While we may be struck by that second arrow, it need not be fatal.

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again.” – L.R. Knost

Remember to keep moving.

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Back To School: Why It’s Not Just For Kids

“To everything there is a season, and a time and purpose for everything under heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

September is here, and with Labor Day, Summer is unofficially over. Autumn can’t be far behind. Autumn, here in New England where I live, is one of the most eventful times of the year. The leaves have already begun to change, and nature is slowly and subtly beginning to do what it always does. Cooler mornings, changing sounds, later sunrises and earlier sunsets. Everything is changing, including us humans.

I’ve always associated Fall with two significant things in my life-school and football. As a FBNew Englander, I am a fan of the Patriots and, as a former player, cold induced aches and pains bring back memories of every tackle that probably were not quite as vicious as I recollect. The rest of the country may not be able to relate to the Patriots, but all Americans can relate to the anticipation and excitement of the beginning of school. I’m more aware of this excitement than most people. Eighteen plus years as a student and thirty-three as a high school teacher have conditioned me to react to September like a Pavlovian dog. The season starts with the back-to-school sales on clothing, stationery supplies, and accessories that every kid needs for school. Remember that lunchbox you got before third grade started? Those must have items that “all the kids have?” Remember the anticipation of meeting your new teacher and the excitement of learning new subjects, being exposed to new challenges, and participating in new activities?

“Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a constant state of learning.”-Bruce Lee

Most of us had a love/hate affair with school. We would never admit that we liked being there, and eagerly looked forward to the day when we would complete it. For some it was high school, others college undergraduate, and postgraduate for others. Our desire to complete our formal education need not be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The reality is that all humans have a fundamental need to learn, take on new challenges, stretch their intellectual and physical limits, and continue to grow. Even people who try not to be challenged by life will eventually find it challenging. Life happens, with both the good and bad, and, whether we know it or not, we are in a constant state of learning. The human intellect makes us, by definition, lifelong learners. Life can be more meaningful, and less painful, if it is accepted and embraced as one, continuous, educational experience.

When was the last time you consciously sought out some new things to learn? What’s the old guy schoollast foreign language you tried to learn? Musical instrument? Sport or exercise routine? Formal class that you took? Book that you read? Are there any things that you “wish I learned or studied years ago?” How often do you use the words “too late” and “too old now?” Formal education would have been a better experience for all of us if we could choose the subjects we studied and the extracurricular events that we participated in. As adults, we all have these options. With the right attitude, we can continue to grow and thrive right up to the day that we die. Medical science has redefined what aging means. Each of us needs to discover our own personal definition.

There are hundreds of things you can do and get involved in that can mimic that September excitement that you felt as a kid. Here’s a few ideas:

⦁ Find some new activities. Are you really “too old” for yoga, tai chi, martial arts, Pilates, ballroom dancing, or the gym? A visit to any places where these activities are practiced will show you that the answer is probably not. Adults of all ages participate in these activities, some well into their senior years.
⦁ Take a class in some activity, topic, or academic subject that always been interested in. Most states have pretty vibrant vocational school systems that hava hands-on activities that are useful, interesting, and fun. In some states, community colleges offer free tuition to citizens over a certain age. Many major universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, record their classroom lectures and make them available to the public online for free. You “attend” all the class lectures for a semester online through video. No test taking, no pressure, just access to interesting information and intellectual stimulation available when you are.
⦁ Make some new friends. One of the more exciting aspect of returning to school was who the “new kids” were. Finding out where they were from, what they like to do, what their favorite music was, and why they talked differently, was all part of your developing a social awareness that people were different. If you’re someone who finds it difficult to make new friends, new activities will acquaint you with people that you can size up for a while as you participate. Eventually, some of these same people will become friends in the same manner that your teammates did during high school athletics. No pressure, common activities and mutual interests can form the cornerstone of lifelong friendships.
⦁ Consider counseling, psychotherapy, or self-help activities. These activities are all too often associated with having problems or being “crazy.” They’re not exclusively for those going through some difficulties. They can be incredibly beneficial for everyone, giving us self-awareness, personal insight, and allowing us to come to terms with a lots of baggage that we all needlessly carry through life. I often compare this to looking under the hood of a car. Many of us superficially travel through life never taking a look at what drives us, motivates us, or inspires us. Looking under the hood occasionally is a good idea with any vehicle, including you.
⦁ Explore what you believe for some of life’s ultimate questions. If you are a follower of an organized religion, don’t be afraid to question it. If you have no organized religion, then what do you believe? Having some healthy doubts about what you believe is what separates true faith from indoctrination. Being curious about these ultimate questions can make life more meaningful.

Whether you’re heading off to first grade, or heading into the autumn of your years, Back-to-SchoolSeptember can be the best season of your life. There’s no sense trying to fight it, embrace it, learn from it, and enjoy it. You just may find that this acceptance is what life is really about.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

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