Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Relaxing Time with Our Pets: 
How time with pets can lower Stress levels

Multiple studies have shown that owning a pet is associated with lowering blood pressure, reducing stress, and relaxing the body.  There are several reason for this.  First, studies have suggested that petting a dog may release hormones in the body that make us feel good, while at the same time reducing the stress hormone cortisol.  In other studies, the belief is that because you get out and walk more if you own a pet, the exercise tends to release the same helpful hormones.  In addition, if you have a pet you may socialize more with the pet, thus exposing yourself to other people and putting yourself in the path of company and positive feedback from others, which can ward off loneliness.

If you don't have a pet and aren't sure if you are ready for one, try spending time with a friend's pet to see if you feel more relaxed while with the animal.  Many shelters welcome visitors who come in to visit and pet the animals awaiting adoption.  Some may even allow you to take the animal for walks or even home for a pet visit to see if you and the animal might be compatible for later adoption.

Nursing homes, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers have programs in which animals are brought in to visit with residents and patients who tend to find it soothing to spend time with them.  This is called Animal-Assisted Therapy and has been done with animals like cats and dogs.  There are also healing techniques used in which you can spend time with horses or dolphins in their environments in order to work out your own issues of trust, anxiety, and grief.

If you've had a rough day at the office, or are having elevated stress and anxiety due to other events in your life, be sure to set it all down once you get in the door at the end of the day and spend some quality time with your favorite pet.  You will both benefit from the special time together.

Thanks to Paree for the great photo of Chooki sitting on the windowsill

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Abdominal Breathing: Your Secret Weapon against Symptoms of Anxiety

Not only does one minute of proper abdominal breathing slow down the heart rate and reduce many other symptoms of anxiety, but it redirects your mental attention to the abdominal area, and if you remain focused there, then you are not focused on all the "what if" thinking that tends to create the illusion of danger that isn't really present.  When the mind focuses on one thing at a time like this--especially the healthful task of balanced breathing--it cannot also be obsessing about the possibility of danger that isn't even there, or be distracted with other faulty thinking styles which trigger these symptoms in the first place.

If you are convinced that you already know how to perform abdominal breathing properly, it might be time to look a little closer.  It's not just about taking a nice deep breath or letting out a good sigh.  Abdominal breathing is a very specific kind of breathing and may require attentive practice for some before the process begins to become more unconscious and natural.  This means you can't gain the skill virtually by reading about it in this article, or simply witnessing a baby doing it--which, by the way, babies do very naturally.

Instead, after you read this article--and in order to really gain the benefits of abdominal breathing--you will need to sit back and actually begin a new practice of intentionally trying this kind of breathing several times throughout your day in order to train your mind and body to begin doing it more naturally.

Try this:  Sit back in your seat but upright (not slumped), and be sure to relax your shoulders.  Now breathe in slowly while at the same time allowing your stomach to expand out.  This requires that you relax your stomach and let it move outward while at the same time inhaling.  Then, as you exhale, let your stomach sink back in deeper and deeper as you push air up and out.  Try this for a few breaths.  Different, isn't it?  Now try it for a full sixty seconds.

One full minute of this kind of breathing reduces many of the symptoms of anxiety associated with panic attacks and anxiety.  In other words, during and after just one minute of abdominal breathing, you have the power to slow down the heart rate, reduce muscle tension, lower sweat gland activity, and even more--prevent the mind from focusing on the "what if" trigger-thoughts that typically start the fight-or-flight stress response inappropriately in the first place.

So, if you are suffering from chronic symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks, and all around symptoms of stress, consider taking another look at the most commonly suggested coping skill for reducing these symptoms--abdominal breathing.  It may be worth seeing if  you've given it a fair shake.

Thanks to Mae Chevrette for the great photo - breathe