Life has been a little stressful in my neck of the woods these days. All of the physical and mental reactions to stress have caused me a case of hives, higher blood pressure, weight gain, interrupted sleep, etc. Normal reactions to be sure, but none of them healthy and none of them fun to deal with. Most of us have these issues from time to time. When they occur we are told that the habits we turn to during times of stress are for the most part unhealthy: avoid alcohol, limit caffeine, don't tan, no smoking, no salt (and in general no unhealthy comfort food). The most difficult task of all: AVOID STRESS. It is enough to make a person start a new vice just to make up for those we are no longer allowed to revel in.
The best way to combat stress is to take a long walk with a nice companion, be it human, dog, cat, bunny, ferret, or goldfish. After the walk, pet your companion until your heart rate slows to a normal beat and if your worries return at 2 AM grab your companion and pet them some more. Breathe in, breathe out. And be grateful to have gentle tools to deal with stress.
Last week our local public television station aired an old program called Pets in the Crossfire of Family Violence. A 2007 conference at the University of Minnesota brought together veterinarians, police, health professionals, and other violence prevention advocates. Most of us who have been touched by domestic violence (or let's face it, who read the papers regularly) understand that their is a connection between child abuse, violence toward animals, and domestic violence. The conference addressed these connections, provided examples of them, and aimed to educate interested communities about how to identify violence and how to prevent it.
But the coolest thing I came away with was the mention of an Australian study on pet ownership and civic engagement. The 2007 research found an increase in civic engagement and sense of community among pet owners:
I've experienced this myself. The customers and staff at our local pet store have conversations as if we are intimate friends. When my mom's dog comes to visit and we walk Matti to the park, every neighbor within an 8 block span finds a reason to chat. People who barely acknowledge us when we meet in the grocery store are suddenly friendly and welcoming. Pets are social lubricant.In both qualitative and quantitative research, pet ownership positively associated with social interactions, favor exchanges, civic engagement, perceptions of neighborhood friendliness, and sense of community. Pets appeared to ameliorate some determinants of mental health such as loneliness. Finding suggest pets have a ripple effect extending beyond their guardians (owners) to non-pet owners and the broader community. (Wood, Giles-Corti, Bulsara, & Bosch)
Back at home our little sanctuary isn't perfect. T needs fewer hours of sleep than I do, Olive occasionally sinks her teeth into my arm for apparently no reason, and Oskar is kind of clumsy and accidentally breaks stuff (and emits incessant meows that sound like busted noisemakers on New Year's Morning). But they bring me calm when the rest of the world is stressing me out.
Note: While we are on the topic of animals and abuse... Ever since the documentary Buck came out I've been hyper aware of cruelty toward horses. This recent Animal Humane Society clip is one reason why. Even as horse lover I had no idea of the viciousness with which so many animals are treated. Please help to prevent this cruelty to our animal friends. Watch the clip and voice your concerns to our leaders.