by Carlyn Montes De Oca
How Do You Wake-Up?
Do you check your text messages before you pet your dog? Are you addicted to your television set, engrossed in the latest disaster while your cat waits for his breakfast? Do you lay in bed at night, unable to fall asleep, worrying about the state of the world?
Over the last couple of years in my private practice as an acupuncturist, I have seen more clients than ever suffering from anxiety, depression, and stress – stemming from the precarious state of our planet. My clients shared with me that the growing divisiveness in our communities, the looming threat of global warming, and the increase in gun violence in our schools were among many of their concerns and that they felt powerless to do anything about it.
What to Do We Do When the World Looks So Bleak?
Like a falling row of dominoes, our negative moods affect our physical health, they can adversely impact our personal relationships, and they can even sabotage what gives our life meaning and purpose. Some people turn to medications to help ease their emotional discomforts unaware that a mighty remedy may right now be sitting on their lap, waiting to help them discover the life-enhancing power of a simple thank you.
Research shows that having a gratitude practice, even for as little as five minutes a day, increases our happiness, boosts our productivity, helps us sleep better, and increases our emotional resilience. Science also shows that having a close connection to an animal companion, is good for our heart health, decreases our stress, helps us be more joyful, and increases our levels of empathy. Daily journaling has its own impressive benefits such as helping us better understand ourselves, the people we love, and the world around us. When you bring gratitude, animals, and journaling together, you can create a powerful trifecta of wellness.
Shifting From Negative to Pawsitive
Gratitude costs nothing, it is readily available no matter our race, gender or political affiliation. Yet this easy practice is often overlooked when it comes to benefiting our emotional well being.
When we have a cat or a dog in our home, who we treat as an important family member, and have a strong connection to, then finding reasons to be grateful becomes fun. By journaling every day and using our furry friends as inspiration, we become aware of what animals give us that we might not have previously noticed.
As we write down our thoughts, we may find that our animal friends are our best teachers when it comes to playing, an art that so many of us adults have forgotten how to do. How much calmer or more invigorated do we feel after taking a long walk with our beloved dogs? How often do our cats make us laugh just by watching them leap on our beds, attacking our feet when we dare shift them under the bed covers? Who better than a dog – filled with bounding excitement, and unconditional love – to help you feel appreciated when you come home after a long hard day? Our animal companions excel at comforting us when we are blue and they accept us without judgement even when we judge ourselves. If all of this well being were put into a little pill, how much would you be willing to pay for it? Instead, it is yours to have for the price of an adoption fee.
Dog as My Doctor, Cat as My Nurse
If you are feeling unhappy, less than hopeful about the future, and your cat jumps on your computer as you are working, or your dog interrupts your net surfing with a leash in her mouth – don’t get mad, take their guidance instead. Go for a walk, take a cat nap, enjoy a car ride together. And when you are done, take a pen to paper, set the timer for five minutes, and answer the question – How can my furry BFF inspire me to have a more pawsitive day? You might be surprised at the answers that you discover.
For those of us who love animals and thrive on our deep connection to them, this daily practice of being grateful to our animal companions will allow us to deepen our relationships to them in a unique and mutually beneficial way. Because, as our stress levels decrease, and our happiness increases, our animal friends sense the change in us; a change that allows them to feel safer in their environment, more at ease, and more confident.
Can Our Animal Friends Inspire Us to Be Better Humans?
Paving a new road away from pessimism, through gratitude journaling, can take time as the brain forges new neural pathways to accommodate our brand-new habits. Fortunately, our brains are flexible and like clay they can be molded over time towards a more positive outlook.
Writing down what we are grateful to our animals for, even the smallest things, helps us focus on what we have rather than what we don’t. The world around us will still be precarious, life will continue to challenge us with its ups and downs, and we may feel moments of negativity, frustration, and anger, but the more we practice gratitude, the more these old neural pathways will shift towards peace of mind, and for the animal lover – a greater sense of the pawsitive.
Every day, our beloved cats, dogs and other animal companions quietly, gently, and patiently nudge us towards our humanity even when we have lost our way. If you don’t believe me, pick up a pen and paper, tune in to gratitude, and let the healing begin.
CARLYN MONTES DE OCA is an Animal-Human Health expert, acupuncturist, blogger, speaker, and author of the #1 Amazon bestselling award-winning book, Dog as My Doctor, Cat as My Nurse.
Her new book, Paws for the Good Stuff: a cat lover’s journal for creating a purrfectly pawsitive life, will be available late spring, 2020.
Carlyn lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, Ken Fischer, an award-winning film sound editor, and her beloved rescue dog, Grace.