How Will Fido’s Love Make Your Anxiety Battle Successful?

June 8, 2016

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I want to introduce you to Delila. She is just under a year old now and came from a litter of pups that our Lab had last year. Delila and I have developed a very special bond during her first year. A bond that I have never felt with any of my other dogs. She is by my side pretty much every moment of the day. I’m sure working from home has made this very simple for us.

To give you a little history, I went through a very traumatic period in my life that left me with panic attacks and social anxiety. While my symptoms seem to be getting better as time goes by, I still have moments when out of the blue a panic attack hits or my anxiety is so bad that I have to eliminate any chaos or high energy surrounding me. During these times, I usually go to my room to calm myself, meditate and use breathing techniques, which really do help with the scary out of control feelings I am having.

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What I didn’t realize when I was going through an anxiety or panic attack was Delila would lay beside me, put her paw on my legs and breath with me. I’d rub her ear (something she adores) and just the breathing and the soft, velvety feel of her ear would help calm me down. When I became aware of our interactions during those times I also noticed that if I was feeling a little “off” that day or extra stressed, depressed or just plain exhausted she will always jump to my side either laying her paws on my legs or her head in my lap always giving me her ear to rub. She senses these episodes I have now very well and it makes me aware of what is about to take place. Kinda like a heads up, which gives me the mindfulness to just close my eyes, breath and get a grip of the situation before it gets a grip on me.

It wasn’t until I went away for a weekend by myself sans Delila that I truly realized she is my “unofficial” therapy dog. While I did enjoy my weekend getaway, I was a bit frazzled without her presence. According to Mr. R, she was suffering from separation anxiety as well. However, when I returned home she was soo happy to see me and I her that we have not let each other out of sight.

This experience of mine lead me to do some research on therapy dogs. We hear of our veterans coming home from deployment suffering from PTSD or other disabilities and being prescribed therapy dogs or equine therapy. I think this is a wonderful way to help our servicemen and servicewomen and it seems to be one of the most therapeutic treatments for PTSD.

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In my research I came across a paper from UCLAhealth.org wherein it discusses multiple ways that therapy animals can be, well, therapeutic in the healing process. One such clinical trial cites:

… Allen,Shykoff,and Izzo (2001) also examined the effects of pets—cat or dogs—on blood pressure. Stockbrokers without pets and who had stage II hypertension (160/100 +) were given lisinopril to treat their hypertension and were randomized into two groups. One group was to continue the medication, and the other was to get a pet and continue medication. Blood pressure was checked at the start of the study, at 1 and 6 months of pet ownership, and after completion of a cognitive math-and-reading stress task. Compared to the control group, pet owners had significantly lower blood pressure after completing the cognitive stress tasks (p < .0001). In addition, pet owners improved their accuracy in completing the cognitive stress task from 74%, initially, to 92% at the conclusion of the study, whereas the non–pet owners showed no improvement (from 74% initially to 75% at the conclusion of the study)…

It further states:

Based on the research to date, AAIs (Animal Assisted Interventions) may be indicated for but not limited to patients of all ages who need improvement in mood, motivation, self-esteem, and physical and psychological well-being. This includes men, women, and children of all ages who have had the pertinent precautions and safety issues addressed. Specific medical indications include but are not limited to autism, dementia, chronic diseases, mental disorders, and neurological disorders including aphasia and epilepsy (Allen et al., 2001; Filan & Lewellyn-Jones, 2006; Kaminski et al., 2002; Macauley, 2006; Richeson, 2003; Sams et al., 2006). Settings that are appropriate for AAIs may include but are not limited to institutional settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care, mental health facilities, schools, and correctional facilities. Other settings may include the home, farm, or alternative locations with access to therapeutic animals such as dolphins (Arkow, 2004).

Here is the link to the UCLAHealth.org study, Health Benefits of Animal-Assisted Interventions for you to peruse.

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The MayoClinic.org also cites:

Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems; Children having dental procedures, People receiving cancer treatment, People in long-term care facilities, People hospitalized with chronic heart failure, Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

And it’s not only the ill person who reaps the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too. Animals also can be taught to reinforce rehabilitative behaviors in patients, such as throwing a ball or walking.

Pet therapy is also being used in nonmedical settings, such as universities and community programs, to help people deal with anxiety and stress.

You can read more about the Mayo Clinic opinion Pet therapy: Man’s best friend as healer as well as the many references they cite.

Another excellent read is The Dog-Human Connection in Evolution at Neuroanthropology .

In conclusion, I have decided to certify Delila as an Emotional Support Dog so together we can visit hospitals, nursing homes, the VA and numerous other community organizations to help spread the love and the healing to those in need. I also want to support this community and show them that sometimes medication isn’t the only remedy to psychological disorders, which are not totally understood by the medical community, a combination of diet, exercise and the love of an animal combined with therapeutic medications can be equally effective.

Do you have a pet that you emotionally rely on for a psychological disorder?

See you in the comments,

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By Mrs. R