How my canine friends keep me sane – try taking a mental health day with your dog. It is a well known fact that spending time with your pets; in my case dogs releases stress and anxiety.
The past year has been particularly different for us all. The pandemic has brought with it many anxious situations and strange times and we have been forced to spend time apart from our families and our friends. Our work places have been altered, even shut down depending on your sector. Schools, colleges and universities all closed and places of leisure forced to stop operating. Even our places of worship were told to cease operating, something I in particular am keen to get back to. A world where we are now a nation of face mask wearers and discouraged from hugging each other (until recently). I think now more than ever is a time to take care of ourselves, especially our mental health. Amongst the madness, one thing that has remained consistent is my dogs. Our dogs reliability to love and to show warmth and affection has never ceased nor has it been compromised by rules and regulations to stop the spread of the pandemic. Their lives however have changed too, no more sessions with the dog trainers, no more dog shows and even the trip to the vet has become a new kind of normal.
Most of the time the pack have coped well, that is apart from our youngest Luna, she is a typical lockdown puppy. Her opportunities to socialise and soak up different stimuli has been severely hindered. She has become so very reliant on me that it feels as if she is permanently stuck to my body, seriously that is not an understatement. I have not even touched on the ‘normal’ stresses and strains of life. You know… money, work, health and relationships. Surely taking one day to have a ‘mental health day’ with your dog is much needed and I would even go as far to say a requirement of trying to stay sane and happy. I also suffer with a rare neurological condition called Transverse Myelitis, this can leave me feeling very pained and fatigued. I will openly admit it gets me down and some days causes me great frustration and anxiety.
So, what exactly is a mental health day and how does it differ from any other day? My average day normally consists of walking dogs and working, and like most other woman I will be trying to fit in a load of washing and a quick mop of the floor. I am actually going to elaborate on my day a little more because like so many other woman of my age much of my nights are spent with wakeful periods. Yes, you get it you go to bed at ten thirty and are wide awake again at three! Am I hitting a note there with any of you? Yep, thought so! Are you able to build that picture? The one where you're relating to my existence too? Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t change anything (much). Hold on that is not completely honest… I would definitely change the insomnia and the hours spent awake when everything that you don’t want to think about creeps in to your mind. And of course if I could be rid of a painful and debilitating condition too, but I guess that somehow helps make me who I am.
Let’s do it, let’s build that picture of a mental health day with your dog. Here’s my top ten tips.
1. Pick a day and book it off, yes book it off!
2. Plan as little as possible for that day – you have to factor in at least one dog walk, that’s an order! If you can walk somewhere different and somewhere beautifully peaceful.
3. Plan what you and your dogs are going to eat – yes the dog too! Choose one of your favourite meals and enjoy it. Don’t rush it, taste each morsel.
4. Keep hydrated – refreshing cool water and a slice of lemon and herbal teas are ideal and are good for your skin too!
5. Turn your mobile telephone off. You are having a day off remember.
6. Snuggle up on the sofa with your dog and watch a movie or listen to some relaxing music for you and the dog, yes I said the dog! In fact YouTube have a great selection of relaxing music to listen to with your dog.
7. Massage and spend time stroking your dog, this releases happy hormones for you both.
8. Speak to your dog, tell them all about your hopes for them and share some of your dreams.
9. Play with your dog, dogs love interacting with their owners – it’s fun.
10. Sing and dance with your dog, this always makes me happy especially when they sing back.
Extra tip, actually, no sorry it’s an order, you must have a long hot soak with some essential oils at the end of the day followed by a herbal tea. I like the Pukka Night Time teas.
I am feeling more relaxed just thinking about all this and I can assure you that once you start planning mental health days you will never look back. One other thing I always try to fit in is time to meditate, in fact I do this most days. There are several apps such as Calm available on the App Store. I am a Christian and love the Abide App. My dog’s don’t seem to mind how I meditate but I always feel a sense of calm about them when I do, they definitely pick up on the calmer me.
As well as the benefits on your mental health, relaxing and spending time with your dog can have a positive effect on your physical health.
According to Hopkins Medicine, 84% of post traumatic stress disorder patients paired with a service dog reported a significant reduction in symptoms, and 40% were able to decrease their medication.
This has got to be the proof in the pudding hasn’t it? In fact a dear friend who suffers with PTSD is living proof with his faithful service dog Marley. I think we all know how much stroking your dog helps lower that blood pressure and reduces the racing heart.
So, I urge you to feel inspired after reading this blog to go ahead and book that date. I can promise it will become a regular occurrence for you and the dog!