May is Mental Health Month, and for the first time in a year, I’m breaking the MAPS rhythm. We’ll still focus on self-care, but the order won’t follow the MAPS format. This week I’ll start with the ‘A’—and this time it stands for animals!
Next week, I’ll circle back to the ‘M’ and share an interview and tips on how to know if your child needs to see a therapist. The third Self-Care Sunday of the month will follow the regular focus on physical self-care, and the fourth post in the series will highlight the importance of spiritual self-care.
About three years ago, while writing a series for Blessed (but Stressed) on mental health issues, I discovered that someone had designated May as Mental Health Month. Three years later, I finally decided I should research who came up with that term.
In 1949, Mental Health America, a group established to promote mental health awareness, started the first Mental Health Awareness Month. For the past ten years or so, they’ve had a theme for May and a conference in June that expands on that theme.
This year, MHA will expand its focus from 2018 and raise awareness about the connection between physical health and mental health, through the theme #4Mind4Body. They will explore the topics of animal companionship, spirituality and religion, humor, work-life balance, and recreation and social connections as ways to boost mental health and general wellness.
Get a Pet for Balanced Self-Care
So, let’s talk about animals, pets in particular. I have read studies about the benefits of watching fish for lowering blood pressure, but when most people think about pets, they think of cats and dogs. Pedro has an allergic reaction to cats, so that meant if we ever wanted to be pet people, we’d need a dog. I know, they have hypoallergenic cats, but we couldn’t afford one.
In 2003 we purchased our first family pet. I thought Pedro needed a companion (he spent a lot of time alone recovering from cancer). The girls needed to learn responsibility, and caring for a pet would provide the perfect avenue. And me? I wanted a running partner that would scare off both animals and humans.
After researching for months, I finally found the perfect German Shepherd puppy. She had a fancy registered name, but since we had just added one more female to the family, Pedro decided to call her Clancy (after Tom, the author).
By the end of that summer, we had decided that Pedro would homeschool our girls for a year. After his catastrophic cancer encounter, he still couldn’t work a full day (he received a stem-cell transplant on January 3, 2003). Pedro, Laura, and Sarah made Clancy’s care and training part of their homeschool experience, and we all enjoyed teaching her new skills.
The World’s Most Incredible Dog
I could probably write a whole book about Clancy’s amazing intelligence and capacity to train her humans. Needless to say, we spent many happy hours with her as a family (she loved hiking and canoeing). Just writing this little bit about her has me tearing up, so I’ll keep my eulogies short. Clancy could use her big brown eyes to get me to do anything—take her on twice-daily walks, throw the ball/stick/feather/snowball just one more time, and open doors.
She had a litter of puppies in December of 2008, and we gave the youngest to our daughter Laura for Christmas that year. When Laura went away to college two years later, I had two dogs to care for, but I didn’t mind. Bella (Laura’s dog) lived with us until 2014, when Laura finished college and moved into a rental house that allowed pets. Clancy had passed away in 2012, shortly after we moved to Arizona.Did you know pets can lower your triglyceride levels? Mind blown. Thanks @HABRITweets for educating me! #4Mind4Body Click To Tweet
The Positive Benefits of Pet Ownership
About four years ago, I noticed that my triglycerides and bad cholesterol had started to climb. Each year, it registered a little higher. I figured that stress and heredity caused the change, because I eat very little cholesterol as a life-long vegetarian.
It turns out, my cholesterol levels may have risen because I didn’t have a pet anymore. Yes, you read that right. According to habri.org (Human Animal Bond Research Institute), having a pet can lower your triglycerides and bad cholesterol.
Pets can have a positive impact on your mental health as well. According to HABRI, pets can help people with mental illnesses regulate their diagnosis, relieve stress, reduce loneliness, combat anxiety, and avoid depression.
These posters from habri.org highlight the benefits of cats over dogs, as well as explain the ‘Pet Effect.’ They might come in handy if you need to convince someone else in the household why you need a pet as a form of balanced self-care.
Self-care and Pet Ownership
Animals have a positive effect on our physical and mental wholeness. This makes pets the perfect long-term solution to some of our basic self-care needs such exercise, mental health, and cardiovascular health.
Yes, pets require a lot of work (especially puppies), but the benefits outweigh the annoyances. Just keep your valuables out of the way of sharp little puppy teeth. After writing this, I’m rethinking our decision to not get another dog…don’t tell Pedro!
Q4U: Have you ever had a pet that impacted your life in positive ways?