The Benefits of Pets in Recovery

 Positively-Present-Recovery-Pets
Artwork inspired by FreehandMagic on Instagram and Etsy

 

Over the couple of weeks, I've been recovering from surgery, and, though it ended up being a relatively easy process compared to others I've had, it's still never a fun experience. (Though, to be fair, playing Scrabble with my mom while watching Hallmark Christmas movies was pretty enjoyable!).

Recovery in the physical sense it tough, and I've made it a little bit more challenging on myself by diving into Russell Brand's amazing book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, while in rest-up mode. The book is so good — I'd recommend it to anyone, even those who don't have substance abuse issues — but it's definitely put me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. (One of the highs: seeing my pup, Barkley, featured on Russell's Instagram page!)

As I've been working through physical and emotional pain, I've discovered one incredibly beneficial resource that I don't read about often enough: my dog. Studies have show that pet ownership, or just being in the presence of a companion animal, is associated with health benefits, including improvements in mental, social, and physiologic health status. Animals can have a majorly positive impact on our lives, but my awareness of this impact seems to be heightened when it comes to recovery of any kind. 

Recovery, of course, requires assistance from humans, too, but there's something different and powerful about the presence of an animal. Here are some of the benefits I've experienced, in both physical and substance-related recovery, as a result of having a dog in my life: 

 

COMFORT

Probably the most basic of all recovery benefits is the comfort spending time with an animal brings. It's been shown that playing with or petting a pet can help lower oxytocin levels in the brain, which helps you feel more relaxed and less stressed — two factors that definitely help with the anxiety that comes with any kind of recovery. Most of us who have pets know that petting an  animal is calming, and it's also been shown to help keep blood pressure levels lower. Pets also offer physical warmth. I've noticed that warmth — a cozy blanket, clothes fresh out of the dryer, a cup of tea, a soothing bath, or the snuggly body of a pet — really helps with my anxiety. Just feeling the warm pressure of a pup leaning against you (as Barkley is right now as I'm writing this!) can provide additional comfort. 

 

HONESTY

This one tends to apply a bit more to substance recovery, but the benefit is actually pretty universal for anyone who struggles with emotions (who doesn't?!). The great thing about pets is: they can't hide their emotions. When they're afraid or distraught, we know it (especially if we know them well!), and they, in turn, are often tuned into our emotions. This offers a two-fold benefit: (1) they can be a barometer we can use to assess how we're feeling because they'll often mirror our emotional states, and (2) they can inspire us to be more emotionally honest. Many of us (even those without substance abuse histories) try to numb or avoid our emotions, but, through the help of our pets, we can learn that recognizing and expressing emotions doesn't have to be so challenging. (The resistance to feelings is actually way more painful in the end!)

 

COMPASSION

Many animals are able to show compassion for those in emotional or physical pain. Anyone who's had a dog lick her face while she's crying knows that, while pups might not understand complex human emotions, they do appear to understand our feelings in some and often do what they can with their limited communication abilities to convey compassion and even empathy. This compassion can also be easier for some people to accept than the compassion from fellow humans. If you're feeling frustrated by your condition or even envious of those who can do things you cannot (i.e., walking post-surgery or drinking casually without self-destruction), accepting compassion from others can be challenging. With pets, there's no comparison or complex emotional acceptance involved when compassion is offered. The simplicity of it makes it easier to embrace. 

 

SELFLESSNESS

When in recovery of any kind, it can be challenging not to become at least a little self-absorbed. You're in pain and pain's an attention-seeking type of thing. It demands to be felt and attended to, which can lead to some selfish tendencies. While, of course, it's important to attend to pain, focusing too much on it can be dangerous. Pets can take us out of this me-focused mindset because they have many needs they can't attend to on their own — like food, walks, etc. Self-care and self-reflection are important in recovery of any kind, but having a little creature that needs you can be a useful tool for remembering that, despite your pain, the world doesn't (and shouldn't!) revolve around you. Pets give you a purpose, which can be a very big morale boost when you're in a difficult physical or emotional state. 

 

MINDFULNESS

I've written about this countless times before, but pets are such good motivators for staying in the moment. Animals can certainly think about the future and the past, but they tend not to dwell on them the way us humans do. When it recovery, we can learn so much from paying attention to how animals are just able to be. They have the benefit of not having some of the complexities that come with the human brain and, while we might not ever to be able to reach their level of supreme mindfulness, paying attention to how they pay attention be a positively transformative experience. Engaging in certain activities with them (like playing fetch, for example) can also offer opportunities to practice being in the moment. 

 

COMPANIONSHIP

One of the greatest challenges in recovery is the sense of isolation one is likely to feel. Even if you're fortunate enough to have great people around you (thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking care of me!), you're still likely to feel lonely and adrift at times. Other people cannot be by your side 24/7 (nor would you probably want them to be!), but a pet can often be with you most of the time, providing companionship that can ease feelings of loneliness or isolation. While family and friends can provide love and support, unconditional love in the face of recovery can sometimes lead to enabling behavior. Human companionship, no matter how wonderful, is always a bit complex. With pets, it's simple: they love you no matter who you are or what you do, and they don't in any way use that love to enable any behaviors. 

 

SOCIABILITY 

Pets not only give you social interaction with them (no, it's not a substitute for human interaction, but it's still nice), they also give you motivation to get up and socialize with others. (Note: this might just apply to dogs, unless you have a leash for your cat, in which case you're either awesome or have an awesome cat.) When you're in pain (and particularly if you're introverted by nature), getting out and about while in recovery can be hard. If you're physically recovering, you might not really feel up to showcasing your ailment to the world. If it's an emotional kind of recovery, you might feel hesitant or unready to get out and about. But taking a dog for a walk and encountering neighbors can be a simple but effective way to slowly get back to your old self. At the very least, it gets you outside for some fresh air, which I'm pretty sure is good for all kinds of recovery! 

 

PLAYFULNESS

When you're in recovery of any kind, playing isn't really at the forefront of your mind, but pets can bring out a liveliness in you that you didn't realize was there. In general, most adult humans don't do enough playing (at least in my opinion!), and that's one thing pets can be really good at. Playing can have many emotional and cognitive benefits, and even if it's just a short session of tossing the ball or tugging at toy, playing with a pet can really boost your mood — which is a wonderful thing when you're in recovery and might be struggling emotionally. Play also gets you up and moving a bit, which can be beneficial when you either don't feel like (or physically can't) exercise. More endorphins = more healthy mood boosters! 

 

If you're going through any kind of recovery, I hope you have the opportunity to spend time with animals, even if just for a little while. There's something magical about the way they live, and, while it might seem like their lives are simple compared to ours, there's a lot we humans can learn from our four-legged friends. And there are certainly many ways we can benefit from their presence in our lives. If you don't have a pet in your life, you can always check out the adventures (and book recommendations!) of Barkley the Morkie on Instagram! And if you can think of any additional benefits (or even some helpful recovery tips), feel free to leave them in the comments below!  

    

PPGTL-Footer Love-Self-Footer Find-Self-Footer Stickers-Footer


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


5 Surprising Life Lessons Dogs Teach Us

  Positively-Present-Dog-Advice


On more than one occasion I've written about how our pets can teach us so much about staying present (see: A Pup's Guide to Being Present), but lately I've encountered even more amazing ways that pets (and, in my case, a sweet little pup named Barkley) can inspire and enlighten us with their unintentional wisdom. 

Anyone who has a pet is probably well aware that our amazing creatures are filled with a wisdom that often escapes us humans (perhaps because they have less to think / worry about than we do!), but we sometimes fail to tune in to the essential lessons they can share with us. In addition to teaching us to be more mindful (since, for most pets, that's just their nature!), pups can also teach us a few more life lessons, like... 

 

PRIORITIZE REST + RELAXATION. 

If you've ever played outside with a dog on a hot day, you've probably noticed that many of them will take a time out and find some shade when they get too hot or tired. (This, of course, isn't true of all pups, so make sure you're looking out for your four-legged friends, too!) Animals instinctively know when they need to rest. We, as humans, have this instinct too, but we often ignore it in favor of getting more crossed off our to-do lists. Take a tip from your pup, and consider how you can make rest and relaxation more of a priority in your life. It might not sound productive, but the more rested and relaxed you are, the better you'll be in every aspect of your life. (Bonus points if you make an effort to create a coziness for yourself, like some pups do in cozy crate!)

 

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU VALUE MOST. 

Speaking of prioritizing, pups are pretty great at doing it when they need to. Just put a treat in one hand and a ball in the other, and you'll quickly learn your pup's priorities. Even the most ball-loving dogs will typically choose the treats. Like dogs, we only have so much time and attention in every given day, and we need to be mindful of where we place our efforts. Take a moment (right now, if you can!) to jot down the three most important things in your life, and then reflect on how much time and attention you're giving to those areas. It's not always going to be easy to choose (after all, dogs ideally want the ball and the treat), but if you don't mindfully focus your attention, the things you value most might not receive the attention they deserve. 

 

LOVE WITHOUT EXPECTATION. 

When it comes to human love, expectations are incredibly difficult to avoid, but the fewer you have, the better off you (and your relationships!) will be. This isn't to say you shouldn't have standards. You shouldn't settle for less than you deserve (in love or in life!), but having standards is different than having expectations. Expectations, however well-intentioned, often lead to disappointment. And disappointments often build on one another, leading to resentment. Dogs, unlike most people, don't love with expectation. They might occasionally (always) want something from you (food, a walk, a cuddle, etc.), but they don't love you based on whether or not their expectations are met. Learning to love like that can be life-changing. 

 

ESTABLISH YOUR BOUNDARIES. 

Every dog I've ever owned has set clear boundaries when it comes to what they don't like. These boundaries (and the way they are expressed) varies from pup to pup, but most dogs are good at letting you know with their body language what they do and don't like. People, on the other hand, are sometimes shackled by the chains of politeness. Rather than asserting clearly what we don't want others to do, we often tiptoe around topics or soften our tone so as not to offend. While you shouldn't feel the need to shout your boundaries from the rooftops, you should be aware that it's okay (and even necessary!) to make your boundaries with others clear (even if that might mean a little growling from time to time...). Here are some tips for setting boundaries if you're not sure how to do it. 

 

STAY ENDLESSLY CURIOUS. 

One of the absolute best lessons we can learn from our canine companions is this: stay endlessly curious. Puppies are such great sources of knowledge and mindfulness because they are into everything. They notice things, pick up things, stick their noses in everything. Older dogs, too, often take note of new changes in their environment, and pups of all ages are quick to notice (and often introduce themselves to!) new people or pets. As people, we're often busy and stressed, and some of us might not even think we have time to be curious. But curiosity is one of life's greatest gifts, and it doesn't stop giving if you're open to experiencing it. If it's tough to do, pay attention to what your pup pays attention to. You'll be surprised at how much you can learn from looking at the world from a different point of view! 

 

This might not be the first time you've read some of these insights, but don't discount the value of revisiting wisdom (especially when the source of such knowledge comes in an adorable pup-shaped package!). The more often you reflect on life lessons like these, the more likely you'll be to actually take them into account in your day-to-day life, and taking ideas from the screen to the real world is where true wisdom comes into play. If you're lucky enough to have a pet, you're lucky enough to have a little guru by your side, a constant reminder than there is still so much to learn, and even the smallest of beings can impart wisdom in our lives. 

 

 

  STUdio-Pet-Company
Today's post was sponsored by STUdio Pet, a company making beautiful, high-quality crates that fit right in with the look of your home. Dogs need a sanctuary to call their own, but most indoor kennels are not something you are excited to display in your home. STUdio Pet provides the highest quality crates that are sturdy enough to withstand any dog, yet stylish enough to fit anywhere in your home. Our extensive history in the manufacturing industry coupled with our passion for animal welfare ensures a quality kennel that will last a lifetime. All products are manufactured in the USA.


A Pup's Guide to Being Present

  Positively-Present-Pup
 

 

This weekend I had the privilege of having not one, but two dogs in my home, as I was dog-sitting for a friend. I spend a lot of time with my pup, Barkley, but something about having two dogs, and perhaps being more attentive than I am on a day-to-day basis, made me reflect on how skilled dogs are at staying present. While they don't do it all the time (I can definitely tell when Bark is stressed or anxious about something that just happened or is about to happen), they do seem to be much better at staying in the moment. Of course, they have the added benefit of not having quite as much on their minds as humans do, but that doesn't mean we still can learn from them. 

Here are some of the mindfulness tips I was reminded of over the weekend. Learn from the the wisdom of pups! (If you're looking for additional inspiration on pets and mindfulness, I highly recommend the book Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle and Patrick McDonnell. It's adorable and insightful.) 

 

Do less every day.

Pups don't overwhelm their schedules with lengthy to-do lists, appointments, and activities. Pups (and most pets!) know how to take it easy. They spend most of the day relaxing and another good chunk of it playing, going for walks, eating, etc.. We'd all probably love to live a life on a pup's schedule, but since that's impossible for most of us, we can at least strive to do less each day. We can make fewer appointments. We can schedule fewer activities. Yes, some things must be done, but take a look at your to-do list and see if there are tasks that maybe aren't so essential.

 

Worry less often.

Even if you have an anxious pup (like Bark!), pup still don't worry as much as humans do. Worrying, as you might know, doesn't really do anything. It's completely unproductive, but yet many of us spend a lot of time doing it. What we should do instead is determine if there's something we can do about a worrisome situation. If we can, we should take action. If we can't, we should do our best to let the worry go. 

 

Experience more joy.

There's no joy quite like that of a dog with a beloved toy. Barkley, for example, loves this one blue ball she has. You can just see the joy on her face when she runs for the ball, or even when I say the word "ball." As humans, I think we all have things like this, situations or things or people that make us feel completely joyful. Unfortunately, we don't always allow ourselves to experience it fully and without inhibition. Take a lesson from a pup, and allow yourself to feel complete and total joy without fear of judgment. 

 

Refrain from judgment.

And speaking of judgment, the lack of it is one of the most precious assets of any pup. Pups might have preferences for certain things, as we all do, but they don't judge people or themselves. Have you ever seen a pup look in the mirror and complain about her appearance? Yes, I'm aware that they don't have the mental capacity to do that, but still, it's something we should be inspired by, even if it's much more difficult for us, as humans, to attain.

 

Avoid complaining.

Life's got its highs and lows, for both pups and people, but consider how dogs handle most situations: they cope. If they're hot or cold or tired or hungry, they deal with it. Yes, sometimes there's a bit of whining involved, but generally they make the best of where they are until things get better. We could all learn from this. Yes, sometimes it feels good to vent, but more often than not, complaining only makes a difficult situation worse. 

 

Ditch the drama.

Whether its intentional or not, most people create some bit of drama for themselves. Sometimes it's purposeful (stirring the pot, as my mom would say) and other times its unintentional (not being as straightforward as you could be, for example), but regardless of how it happens, its something we have the power to become aware of and transform. Dogs don't create drama for no reason. They face situations head-on without rationalization or blame -- and we'd be a lot better off if we did the same!

 

Create deep connections.

Pets and their owners have a unique and magical kind of unconditional love. Because humans are more complex, it's not always easy to have such a simple, nearly flawless connection with them, but it doesn't hurt to consider how you'd treat your pup if s/he made a mistake vs. how you'd treat a person. The love between pups and people is strong and, typically, unwavering, and it would help us all if we made that kind of connection our goal with other humans. 

 

Notice the little things. 

One of the best things about having a pet is how much they notice. Barkley is particularly adept at noticing any changes in her environment and investigating them for more info. We, as humans, are often rushing around and fail to notice the little things. If you have a pup, take him/her on a walk and take note of everything the pup notices. Whenever I do this, it really helps to make even the most mundane things more magical. 

 

 

For most people (including me!), mindfulness is a challenge. But if we were able to adopt some of these lessons from the pets in our lives (or at least try to adopt them), we'd all be a lot more mindful. Staying present takes practice, and I'm thankful to have a present-minded pup in my life to inspire me. If you have a pet, pay attention to how amazingly present they are most of the time. If you don't have one, hopefully these tips from Bark will give you some mindfulness tips you can put into practice in your own life! 

 

 

PPGTL-Footer Love-Self-Footer Find-Self-Footer Stickers-Footer