It is widely recognized that having pets around can help to calm us when we’re feeling stressed. Scientists have found that increased levels of the “love hormone” oxytocin, associated with strengthening the bond between mothers and babies, are also found in dog owners and their dogs. The highest levels are found in owners whose dogs stared lovingly into their eyes the most!
In the same way that animals are attuned to our positive emotions, they are also good at picking up human stress levels and can be affected by these. This isn’t all bad as a vet at Cornell University illustrates by telling of a parrot who was able to tell when its owner was about to have a seizure and warn her! However, humans and animals share their experience of some of the less desirable effects of stress and anxiety. These include the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol causing us to experience the “fight or flight” response.
A cat or dog might actually be in a situation where they face the potential for physical injury, perhaps in a scuffle with another animal. Generally, where this is the case, once the altercation is resolved, the animal returns to a state of balance, a “rest and digest” state, appropriate to their surroundings. These days it’s relatively rare for humans to face real physical threats. Many of our “fight or flight” responses are triggered by things that we imagine happening. Perhaps worrying about changing jobs, moving house or concerns about health and wellbeing. Often we worry continuously about such things in the background and may not follow the example of our pets, returning to that state of balanced relaxation once a perceived threat is over. We simply replace one worry with another, remaining in a state of background stress. Often one of the biggest worries we have is about feeling stressed!
There are a variety of answers to help us to return to a beneficial state of relaxation. As a hypnotherapist, one of my most important roles is to remind people to make time to relax. One of the simplest methods I can suggest is around paying attention to your breathing for one minute.
Finding time for relaxation doesn’t have to be a chore. By taking a minute to do the following exercise you can help your body to rebalance itself, becoming more relaxed.
- Allow yourself to relax and breathe comfortably
- Begin to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Find a way of timing one minute – watch, clock etc. and decide when you will begin to time your breathing
When you do:
- Focus on your breathing
- Count how many breaths you take in that minute
- Take note of this number (This is the number of breaths you will take to create you own “Mindful Minute”)
When you next find yourself beginning to feel agitated:
- Stop and focus on your breathing
- Count the breaths you take until you have reached your “Mindful Minute”
- Note how your body has relaxed through stopping and focusing on your breathing
So, if your pet seems to be anxious, it is worth considering if perhaps they are picking up a “stress” vibe from you. If you think this might be the case then give the minute mindfulness exercise a try. After all if your pet has helped you de-stress why not return the favour?