Tips on How Pets Can Help With Your Recovery
The idea that positive interactions with animals can be good for you is hardly anything new. There have been plenty of Internet posts that demonstrate healing benefits for isolated senior citizens, veterans diagnosed with PTSD, or children with Autism. Videos of cats, dogs, and other animals doing cute things with humans are practically a cliché on Facebook. The unquestioned acceptance that animals can offer us when we feel most vulnerable can be extremely rewarding. If you are undergoing treatment for an eating disorder, and feeling overwhelmed during your recovery, having a pet is an option you may want to consider.
Can Having a Pet Help You, Too?
Several popular books have been written by authors who got through a difficult time with the love of a four-legged friend. One of the most popular TV shows ever created was about a boy and his dog. Every week, millions of Americans tuned in to watch as Lassie helped rescue little Timmy from some horrific form of danger. Through all of these episodes, Lassie never questioned the boy’s apparent need to create some new form of crisis every week. Lassie always came to the rescue. At the climax of nearly every show, Lassie would make a valiant run for help. When she got home or reached one of Timmy’s parents, Lassie’s barks were taken very seriously. “What is it, girl?” the adults would say, and Lassie would lead them to a location where Timmy was trapped or hanging from a cliff.
You don’t have to wait until the point that you are in real physical danger or feeling trapped in a threatening situation to explore the option of having a canine companion or a feline friend. As you recover from an eating disorder, many of the challenges you face may be internal. If you are battling with issues like trust, low self-esteem, and obsessive thoughts, or struggling to overcome feelings of anxiety and depression, the opportunity to bond with a sympathetic animal can be a blessing.
The unconditional love a loyal dog offers can be a great resource when you are experiencing tremendous emotional pain. Cats may not be as obvious with their devotion, but they are intuitive creatures. Many cat owners say that when they are upset, their cats seem to know. A concerned cat might snuggle up to you when you are crying, they say. Horseback riding can be therapeutic as well, but the care and housing for these larger animals may come with added responsibilities.
How Pets Help Us
Science confirms the soothing qualities of positive interactions with pets. Studies have proven that merely stroking the fur of an adorable puppy can lower your body’s level of cortisol, a stress hormone. The purring sounds from an affectionate kitten can increase your brain’s production of serotonin, one of the body chemicals that makes us feel better. Research proves that pets can provide many benefits for humans. These may include:
- Lower stress
- Less anger
- Less anxiety
- Less depression
- More self-esteem
- Feelings of empowerment
- Ease in social situations
These type of benefits relate directly to the same kind of issues you may face in recovery. While the general level of comfort a cherished pet provides can’t always be measured, the affect these positive interactions can have on a patient’s behavior will not go unnoticed in a successful treatment program for an eating disorder. This is why Center for Discovery’s holistic approach is tailored to fit each individual’s specific needs, issues, and concerns. Some of our centers even feature equestrian therapy.
After she published her book, Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, author Amy Liu says that many readers shared stories about the roles that animals played in their journeys to recovery. One woman wrote about her horse, saying, “She has changed my life. She’s taught me about commitment and selflessness. And for the first time since I was 12, my eating disorder came in second place. Last night when I went to see her, I thought about how horses reflect our own emotions. As I was thinking that thought, she backed up, turned around and stared right into my eyes for the longest time.”
The way that you relate to your pet can also be an added boost to the therapy process. Stories about your pet can make it easier for you find ways to open up and share any difficult feelings you may encounter. In this way, the relationship with a pet provides a bridge to working with others. It also takes the focus off of you, and this can help you be more objective if you struggle with analyzing your own behavior.
Caring for an Animal Also Means Taking Care of Yourself
Taking care of an animal that depends upon you for basic needs like food or shelter forces a person in recovery to be more responsible. The daily duties this care involves can give your life added structure and help you discover the rewards of caring for someone else. Seeing how the animal needs you to survive also demonstrates the power of trust. Over time, your efforts may be rewarded with comfort and unconditional love.
The Price of Having a Pet
If you are thinking about adding a pet to your recovery process, you should be realistic about what this might require. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it may not be the right time to adopt a pet. Having additional responsibilities can feel like a burden. It’s best to access your schedule during your recovery and decide if you honestly have the time or energy to take care of another creature at this point in your life. Where you live may make it difficult to have a dog or cat. You may want to test the idea with friends that have animals or volunteer at a rescue shelter. Or you may want to investigate treatment programs like Center for Discovery’s equine assisted therapy. Talk with your therapist first and see how pets can help with your recovery.
Still Need Answers?
Call Center for Discovery. The symptoms of eating disorders can pose serious health risks, and recovery is an ongoing process. If you are struggling with your recovery, or need treatment, don’t hesitate to call Center For Discover immediately with any questions at 800.760.3934. Call now and speak to one of our highly trained admission specialists today. Or fill out this form for a FREE assessment. All calls are completely FREE and strictly confidential. Center for Discovery’s integrated and personalized behavior modification programs offer years of experience in successfully helping clients and their families develop effective strategies for recovery.
Recovery.org. The Undeniable Benefits of Pets in Recovery. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, by Amy Liu. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
Canine Counselors: Helping People Heal, by Debra M. Cooper. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
STARS Study Findings about Pet Ownership and Recovery from Serious Mental Illness, by Jennifer P. Wisdom, PhD, MPH, Goal Auzeen Saedi, BA, and Carla A. Green, PhD, MPH. Retrieved August 31, 2016.