Changes that Surprise UsOctober 1, 2023
ValuesNovember 30, 2023
I was talking with a friend who has had dogs her whole life. She adores them and could have never imagined being without one.
She needs to “put her beloved dog down” which, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, means euthanasia. If you have never done this (and I have) it can be stunningly difficult. Even when you KNOW it is the best option for your pet, have probably waited way too long, and have consulted with your vet multiple times, it is still very tough…actually, it can be heart wrenching.
My friend shared her reasons – her age, desire to travel, and the increasing responsibilities of pet care. Before I knew it, our discussion had evolved into the complexities of aging.
There’s ample research illustrating the profound benefits older people reap from having pets. A longer, happier life; reduced feelings of loneliness and depression; and the comfort of a steadfast routine, are just a few. The act of caring for a pet, taking a dog for walks, ensures an increase in physical activity for their owners, which promotes better health. Furthermore, pets have this uncanny ability to weave themselves into the very fabric of our lives offering solace during significant life changes like children moving out, retirement, or the loss of dear friends.
However, aging brings its unique set of apprehensions. The fear of falls, concerns about pet care during personal health setbacks, and the reminder of increased vulnerability that accompanies aging.
There are some creative solutions to having pets in one’s life as we age. Having back up helps. Neighbors who can help in some ways when needed or on a more regular basis. In some communities, one person is primarily responsible for an animal and others take turns spending time with it. There are families that “share custody” of their animals splitting up the time. As we consider investigating creative and smart ways to share the care of a companion animal as we get older, we can help ensure the quality of our life.
For those aiding older people, it is essential to understand the effect of a deep person-pet bond. Both introducing and parting with a beloved pet during a person’s later years may be accompanied by significant complexities. Opportunities to foster an animal or adopt an older pet, or “share custody” are worth considering because the positive effect of a pet in a person’s life can be both life enhancing and lifesaving.
#pets #puttingyourdogdown #loneliness #depression #petadoption #fosterapet
Self Care During Exposure to Traumatic Events
When our world faces significant trauma, it’s not just the immediate physical environment that is affected. Our entire being absorbs the shock. We can experience anxiety, rage, sadness and feelings of fear and powerlessness. It is helpful to understand that each of us responds in our unique way. The source of the anxiety or trauma affects how connected we feel and that connection influences our response.
It can be helpful to realize that we are not alone in these reactions. We can recognize that someone else’s response, although different from our own, does not mean it is less significant. Our feelings are a natural response to the frequently chaotic, and often scary world in which we live. What can make our experience more stressful is realizing that the people around us, sometimes friends, neighbors, workmates, see the world situation through a different lens. This can result in a heightened sense of responsibility (and exhaustion) to explain (justify? Defend?) why we feel the way we do and/or share our perspective about the situation with someone who holds an opposing view.
I have thought about ways we can take care of ourselves during traumatic events and offer some guidance with the following suggestions. I wrote something similar during the beginning of the COVID epidemic but now I have added elements that appear particularly relevant today.
Limit News Consumption:
We live in a 24-hour news cycle (TV news, social media feeds, etc.) and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Yes, it is important to stay informed with verified news sources. However, incessant exposure can amplify our anxiety, particularly if we have a close connection to the stories being covered. It is wise to set aside specific times to check the news. We can give ourselves permission to take breaks to replenish our energy while monitoring our mood. Visual images can stay with us, intruding in our thoughts, our functioning, and our emotional well-being. Choosing print or audio versions of the news can help us to reduce the negative impact of “seeing what we cannot unsee” while staying informed and involved. It also makes sense to stay away from the news first thing in the morning or just before retiring for bed makes sense. Sleep is the great restorer. If our sleep is disturbed, this cannot be achieved.
Our screens connect to the larger world. They can also keep us tethered to a constant stream of information. It is not all beneficial. We can select sections of the day to be screen-free. In those moments, we can do something that allows us to rediscover the joy in more-tangible experiences like holding and reading a book, experiencing nature (Nature Walk Talks!), the sound of music or a loved one’s voice and laughter through a phone call or a face-to-face conversation in person with someone who lifts your spirit). Playing with a pet or a child, and thinking about and talking about positive, inspirational topics can also help during the digital timeouts. Think of this time as filling your personal reservoir with positive thoughts and actions that will build your resilience as you engage with the world at this moment.
Meditation and Mindfulness.
I mention these often. We can remind ourselves that while the outside world can be unpredictable, within ourselves we possess a sanctuary. Meditation and mindfulness are gateways to this inner peace. They allow us to pause, breathe, and center ourselves amidst external chaos. We can begin a practice with a few minutes each day and encourage those around us, particularly young people who typically spend a lot of time on their social media feeds, leaving them vulnerable to the images of war and devastation.
Tend to our Routines.
During uncertain times, some semblance of our routine can be our anchor. From morning rituals to nightly wind-downs, these consistent actions can remind us that life’s rhythm persists, even when we feel our lives are disrupted. Something is better than nothing.
Movement isn’t just about physical health; it’s also beneficial for the mind. Going for a brisk walk, participating in a yoga class, or simply stretching can improve blood flow to the brain which can improve cognition. Engage in aerobic exercise. It reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones and stimulates chemicals in the brain that serve to elevate our mood and dull pain.
Solitude can be refreshing, but prolonged isolation can amplify our fears, anxieties, and may contribute to loneliness. When we try to reach out, share, and listen to people who are interesting and interested in us, we feel seen, heard, and connected. Sometimes just knowing that someone else understands what we are going through, or we feel they are present with us along our journey, can make a difference in helping us feel less alone.
Seek Professional Support.
Sometimes we may feel we need a mental health professional’s perspective. It can be helpful to seek a professional to help guide us through the maze of emotions and choices when events feel unbearable, or we feel as if we are going around in circles with the same challenge.
Intentionally set aside a few minutes to connect with a loved one each day. It could be a quick call, a heartfelt text, or (in my view, best of all) a handwritten note. The person can be someone who is no longer with us but writing to them may be helpful to feel the connection we need. Strengthening our bonds of love and friendship are necessary elements for emotional well-being.