A Furry Kind Of Healing …

Those of us who are pet owners know how wonderful our pets are. We brag on them, dote on them, etc.  Those of us, who are also parents, may even distinguish between our children as “those with fur” and “those without”. Our pets live with us, play with us and travel with us. They comfort — even mourn — with us. They are a member of our family and we love them. But did you know that these adorable pets … with their soulful eyes … precocious personalities … cunning wit … and slobbery kisses … actually have the ability to heal?

 

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The U.S. Dog Registry divides dogs (of any breed) into three categories:

  • Service Dogs help with a function/s for a person with a disability, i.e. Blind, Deaf, PTSD, MS, etc.
  • Emotional Support Dogs help people with emotional problems by providing support and comfort, i.e. Anxiety, Depression and Mood Disorders.
  • Therapy Dogs provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers. They are often sent, in the wake of horrific events, i.e. mass shootings, earthquakes, etc.

But what they all accomplish is that they make a positive impact on the people that they interact with. These pets improve the lives of every human that they touch.

Children with Autism were significantly more engaged, when animal therapy was incorporated into their sessions instead of using the standard approach. The children used more language. They exhibited more social interaction. All positive. All healthful.

Cancer patients have improved from pet therapy, also known as Animal-assisted Therapy or AAT. A session of animal interaction, lasting between 5-15 minutes, provides a welcomed distraction from difficult treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. It brightens their day, lifts their spirits and offers a myriad of benefits overall. In fact, AAT has proven to be so effective time and again for many illnesses that the medical community is embracing the idea more than ever before — regularly including it in patient care.

Seniors, who often live alone, also benefit from owning a pet. A pet can provide mental stimulation, erase loneliness, give them a reason to walk around the block and a companion to do it with. Pet interaction has the ability to lessen, even diminish, overall pain. 

When we are bonding with a pet, whether we have a Chronic illness or not, we are in the company of a dear friend — a confidante. As a result, our blood pressure lowers … muscles relax … stress fades. On the chemical level, a pet decreases cortisol in our blood. It can raise levels of the brain chemical dopamine that makes us feel good. We are happier and more positive. And when we reach out … touching their fur … rubbing their back … talking to them … we experience an increase of immunoglobulin A. That antibody boosts our immune system. Hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin are released, when we are rubbing that fuzzy belly or rolling a tennis ball across the floor. Our mood is lighter. We’re smiling … laughing … enjoying life.

Have you hugged your pet, today? Have you felt the nuzzle of a cold nose against your cheek? Or was it soft purring? We all should be so lucky. That furry companion, who greets us at the door, is actually good for us!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/healing-power-pets

https://www.curetoday.com/community/mike-verano/2015/12/cancer-and-the-healing-power-of-pets

https://www.agingcare.com/articles/benefits-of-elderly-owning-pets-113294.htm

https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.psychologytoday.com/therapy-types/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/from-cancercare/animal-assisted-therapy-enhances-cancer-care/article/372518/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342

* Photo of Whisky Macallan … my fur-baby, friend, joy and solace.

Do You Need To De-stress?

Is it just me or is life a lot more stressful than it used to be? Nowadays, it seems that everywhere I go I find people who are tired, frustrated, upset, worried, etc. Life can always throw you a curve-ball that is stressful. But when you add a pandemic … stress hits a whole new level. And stress on its own isn’t healthy. In fact, stress worsens most pre-existing or Chronic conditions. If you have been feeling the pressure of stress, you aren’t alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, about 77% of the population regularly suffers from the symptoms of stress.  Let’s talk about that …

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Stress can negatively impact your relationships at school, home and/or work. A bad day at the office somehow leads to an argument with your spouse/partner? Or vice-versa? You know what I’m talking about. Stress can also weaken your immune systems, increase your blood pressure, increase blood sugar levels, increase pain, etc. The more you allow it to consume you, the worse you are going to feel. That’s a given. And that makes you more vulnerable to other things, i.e. anxiety, depression, colds, viruses. Thankfully, we can do things to reduce the stress in our lives.

If you feel that stress is getting the best of you, try these simple yet effective ways to de-stress:

  • Limit Social Media/Broadcast Media. Yes, social media can be fun. Unfortunately, it’s also a stressor for millions. So limit your use of it. Binge-watching news and talk-shows can also have a negative impact. Select one or two reputable news broadcasts or shows, watch them and move on. You want to be informed — NOT stressed-out.
  • Meditation/PrayerIt just takes a few minutes to close your eyes and focus on something positive or calming. Likewise, reading from a devotional or engaging in silent prayer has the same soothing results.
  • Breathing Deeply. For five minutes, sit upright with your eyes closed. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  • Slow Down. Look around you. Admire flowers growing, a butterfly fluttering, etc. Eat slower and enjoy your food. Live in the moment and do so fully. When you focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.
  • Reach Out. Talk to others, face-to-face or on the phone. Share what’s going on with a friend, co-worker, spouse/partner before it becomes a bigger issue. It can provide helpful support and input.
  • Pull-out The Heating-Pad. Just 10 minutes of warmth on your neck and shoulders can allow your body to decompress and ease tension.
  • Laugh Out Loud. Enjoy a good joke or a funny story … at home, in the locker-room, or the break-room. Watch a 30-minute sitcom with your significant other. Laughing lowers your body’s stress hormone (cortisol) and boosts brain chemicals (endorphins) that lighten your mood.
  • Exercise. All forms of exercise, even low-impact ones like yoga and walking, can relax you. It can ease depression and anxiety. 
  • Listen To Music. Soothing music, from classical to nature sounds, can lower your blood pressure and heart-rate. You can even create your favorite playlist for relaxing!
  • Keep A Gratitude Journal. Carry it with you. Set it by your bed and read it every night. Think of the things you are most grateful for, in your life. The people and things that make your life special.

 

Last but not least, realizing that you need to de-stress isn’t a sign of weakness … or age … or illness. It’s a preventative health measure. One that we all can benefit from. So, don’t be reluctant to try it. The healthier that we are, the happier we are. That leads to the more productive we are and so on. And it’s all good. So go for it!

 

 

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-relationships/201504/6-natural-ways-de-stress

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/blissing-out-10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot#3

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html

https://www.stress.org/daily-life

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/social-media-mental-health-negative-effects-depression-anxiety-addiction-memory-a8307196.html

*Photo by Jared Rice in Unsplash

On A Cold, Winter’s Night …

If you look on the calendar, winter is almost here. But for many, one glance at the thermometer says winter has already arrived. They can literally feel it. Cold weather equates to aches, pains and other issues. Exactly how or why this happens is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists know enough to have key pieces of the puzzle in place. The main theory is that Barometric pressure ( the pressure of the air) can and does affect the joints. Arthritis patients know this all too well. But seasonal weather can affect more than muscles and joints. Many Chronic illnesses are vulnerable. Your blood pressure is higher in the winter. Why? Cold temperatures narrow your blood vessels. Migraines can also be triggered by extreme temperatures (hot or cold). And the list goes on …

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Back in 2007, a Tufts University study found that a 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with increased Arthritis pain. Imagine, for a moment, what a 20-30 degree drop feels like. Ouch! 

If you or a loved one suffer from weather changes, there are some things that you can do to manage your condition. Thankfully, these tips aren’t difficult:

  • Talk to your doctor about seasonal changes in your disease.
  • Avoid becoming a couch-potato. Exercise actually boosts your body’s production of synovial fluid. That keeps your joints lubricated & feeling good.
  • Stay warm. Remember your coat, gloves, hat, etc., whenever you go outside. And consider treating yourself indoors, too.  Flannel sheets & a heating-pad are always comfy!
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
  • Make sure to get enough Vitamin D, daily.
  • Consider dropping some weight. Just one pound lost eliminates 4 pounds of pressure from your knees!
  • Treat yourself to a massage. It alleviates pain and stress. 

Last, but not least, don’t let the cold of a winter day or night get you down. Address your symptoms and maintain your optimism. The weather can be frightful (yes, a certain holiday song is rolling around in my head), but there are tried and true ways to get through the season with minimal hardship. I believe it starts now, before the pain is overwhelming and your mobility is hampered. So, please, don’t ignore what your body is saying to you. Don’t assume that it won’t happen “this year”. Take a proactive approach to your health and well-being. You’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/weather-and-joint-pain#1

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326884.php#3

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/tools-resources/weather/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/health-matters/201410/does-rain-cause-pain-and-what-do-about-it

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058250

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/expert-answers/migraine-headache/faq-20058505

https://connect.mayoclinic.org/discussion/pain-and-changes-in-weather-am-i-alone/

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/massage/massage-benefits.php

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

https://www.fishertitus.org/health/winter-joint-pain-relief-tips

*Photo by Nicholas Selman on Unsplash

We Need Human Touch …

Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into this subject, but there is much to learn from it.  If you were raised in a family who openly showed affection, you are most likely a hugger. You hug family, friends, new acquaintances, etc. It is a social interaction that is part of your daily life. If you were raised in a family who didn’t easily share affection (by that I mean often or at all), you may not like hugging. You probably don’t even understand why some people are so open to affection. Yet, touch is a basic human interaction. An infant is soothed by it. An adult feels comfort, even joy, from it. And what they are feeling is real. It’s significant. Because we all need human touch — the decent, affectionate kind. It has the ability to relieve us of pain, fear, frustration, etc. It has the power to make us feel loved and appreciated. But how does something like a hug do all that? 

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According to researchers, we all have the ability to communicate many feelings through touch. Physical contact is what distinguishes us from other animals. It is a silent language that needs no words. A mother can cuddle her crying baby, in the night, and the message is clear. The infant knows he/she is secure and their crying ceases. A stranger can go into a natural disaster area and offer a hug to a distraught victim. Again, the message is clear. Help has arrived. That compassion, even from a stranger, can be sensed. And it’s powerful. There is also a difference between a caring touch and an aggressive one. The two categories should never be confused. 

When we offer or receive a caring hug, oxytocin is released in our bodies. This is a “bonding” hormone. It has the ability to reduce stress, lower cortisol levels and increase our sense of trust/security. In fact, in a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, researchers discovered that women who received more hugs from their partners had lower heart rates and blood pressure. That’s healthy! A massage has the ability to relax the body, ease pain and melt away tension. That’s healthy! Even something as simple as eye contact and a pat on the back from a patient’s doctor may boost their survival rate, despite the complex disease they are fighting (University of California research). It may sound too good to be true, but science supports it.

Scientific research actually correlates physical touch with several things:

  • Decreased violence. Less touch as a child will lead to greater violence.
  • Greater Trust. Touch has the ability to bond individuals.
  • Decreased Disease & Stronger Immune Systems. In other words, a healthier you.
  • Greater Learning Engagement. When teachers touch students platonically, it encourages their learning. They are also more likely to speak-up in class.
  • More Non-Sexual Emotional Intimacy. Interpersonal touch has a powerful impact on our emotions. 
  • Stronger Team Dynamics. We touch to initiate and sustain cooperation. Hugs and handshakes increase the chances that a person will treat you “like family”, even if you’ve just met. 
  • Economic Gain. Touch signals safety and trust, i.e. NBA teams whose players touch each other more, win more games.
  • Overall Well-being. Adults need positive human touch to thrive, i.e. hugs, handshakes, a pat on the arm or back, holding hands, cuddling, etc. It is fundamental to our physical, mental and emotion health.

Today, we are even seeing Touch Therapy being used to treat patients. First standardized in the 70’s, scientists are not sure how this technique works. The popular theories are: a) Pain is stored in the body’s cells; b) Think quantum physics. Blood, which contains iron, flows through our bodies and creates an electromagnetic field; c) Good health requires a balanced flow of life energy. And there are many Chronic illnesses that respond to this treatment, i.e. Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Alzheimer’s, Chronic Pain, etc.

Some of us are old enough to remember the social panic that AIDs initially created. People feared that it could be spread by even the simplest forms of human contact. Patients often suffered in near isolation. Until, one day, a certain princess visited an AIDs hospital … and held the hand of patient. No gloves. No mask. Just hand-to-hand touch. Thank you, Diana. You not only helped that patient, you changed the global perception of a disease.

We are all in need of human touch … of its power … its compassion … and its ability to literally make us feel better. Some are starved for that connection. So, stretch out your arms … reach for a friend, a family member, your pet, even a stranger. It’s time that we all embrace a hug for our good health. 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201303/the-power-touch

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201808/not-everyone-wants-hug

https://www.khca.org/files/2015/10/8-Reasons-Why-We-Need-Human-Touch-More-Than-Ever.pdf

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mind-body-connection/201309/why-we-all-need-touch-and-be-touched

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-surprising-psychological-value-of-human-touch/

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research

https://www.in-mind.org/article/that-human-touch-that-means-so-much-exploring-the-tactile-dimension-of-social-life

https://theweek.com/articles/749384/painnumbing-power-human-touch

https://www.healthline.com/health/haphephobia#symptoms

https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/treatment/therapeutic-touch

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-39490507/how-princess-diana-changed-attitudes-to-aids

*Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash