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An Animal Companion Can Help Your Fibromyalgia in Amazing Ways
Chronic pain impacts your life in so many ways, from your sleep quality, to your social schedule, to your independence. What begins as a bothersome limitation grows into an inevitable lifestyle change, and many people with fibromyalgia find their quality of life plummets when their disease flares up.
Fortunately, pet ownership can affect your life in just as many ways as fibromyalgia — it may also be your ticket to a better outlook and a more manageable daily routine. If you’ve been struggling with your fibro symptoms, consider the benefits of having a pet and how it can help counter the physical and emotional problems you face every day.
Pets Relieve Stress — and Pain
Studies have repeatedly shown that spending even a short amount of time with a dog can reduce stress, anxiety and pain remarkably. In fact, when dogs visit chronically ill patients in hospitals, there is a measurable decrease in cortisol levels (a major stress hormone), anxiety and blood pressure.
For fibromyalgia patients, stress relief is also the gateway to less pain: stress hormones cause muscles to tense and can also heighten your sensitivity to pain. In turn, relieving stress by bonding with your animal companion can directly alleviate your most uncomfortable fibromyalgia symptoms.
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Pets Provide a Healthy Distraction
Fibromyalgia can be all-consuming. Living with pain and discomfort is difficult enough, but thinking about your symptoms all the time makes it an overwhelming burden. Pets let you focus your attention on something else — something that needs your care and concern — and this leaves little room for worrying about your own health.
Some animals just have a wonderful quirky quality that tears your attention away from your problems and helps you see the bright side. If you’ve ever spent time with a puppy, you’ll know how easy it is to laugh at their antics — and one laugh often leads to another.
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Security and Independence
As your fibro begins to dictate when and where you can go, you might spend more time indoors and isolated from the rest of the world. Isolation can bring depression and loss of self-confidence, and that is a recipe for a difficult, lonely life.
The mere presence of an animal can be enough to slash your feelings of insecurity and helplessness. You don’t need a trained guard dog to help you feel safe; a grateful rescue dog will be just as loyal and protective over your happiness and safety as any other. And if you’re willing to put in some time and effort to train your new companion, they could even start helping around the house!
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You’ll Forge New Connections
Owning a pet brings a whole new world of social opportunity and happy interaction, especially if you opt for a dog. At home you will interact with your dog each and every day, but head out to the park or for a walk around the block, and you will meet other dog owners. Your pets are your connection, and a great icebreaker when you’re meeting for the first time.
Simply relaxing with a pet for a few minutes can make it easier to talk to other people in your life as well, including your doctor. In a study published in the journal Pain Medicine, patients who spent time with a friendly dog in the waiting room felt significantly calmer and relaxed for their appointments, which also led to more productive doctor-patient discussions.
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Quiet Companionship Is Comforting
It’s natural to feel alone and misunderstood when you suffer from chronic pain. The people who love you want to empathize, but when they don’t know how severe and pervasive your condition feels, their kind words may fall short. On the other hand, a quiet, gentle look from your dog or cat can be incredibly comforting, and they’re the perfect sounding board when you just need to vent.
A no-strings-attached friendship can bring the support you need to believe in yourself and take steps to improve your quality of life. In fact, you might find that after bonding with a pet and enjoying that quiet communication, you feel more ready and willing to connect with the people around you.
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Pets Can Help With Physical Therapy
When you physically interact with your pet — taking them for walks, playing, or stroking their fur — you may actually be helping your muscles and joints heal. Gently working your hands and wrists can keep your muscles strong and range of motion improving. Pets also force you to get up and move around the house periodically, whether you need to let them out, feed them, or see what mischief they’re getting into, and that’s important for your mobility.
It may come as a surprise, but your animal friend could even bring some heat therapy to your routine. The body heat from a dog or cat snuggled next to you can soothe and relax aggravated muscles, relieving your fibro pain.
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Living With an Animal Is a Learning Opportunity
They may not be able to talk, but animals can teach people more than you might imagine. For instance, have you noticed how cats and dogs stretch their whole body immediately after waking up? They know the importance of a limber body and stretched muscles, and you should follow their lead.
You’ll also learn how to read facial expressions and decode unspoken behaviour — abilities that can help enormously in your job, friendships, and society in general. Spending time understanding and responding to an animal is sure to increase your empathy and nurture your sense of compassion.
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You’ll Be Happier
Spending some time petting and interacting with a pet can increase endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers. In addition to less pain, your breathing will also slow down, and so will your heart rate. The more calm, relaxed and happy you feel, the better you’ll be able to handle your fibromyalgia symptoms.
Even if you’ve never felt a close connection to an animal before, it’s worth giving it another try. Animals are a lot like people: sometimes you hit it off right away, but other times you have to put in some time and effort to get to know the real personality beneath the surface. Since it can take time to forge a relationship, spend time with a few different pets before you get one of your own. You may find that meeting with a therapy pet at a community center or a friend’s house is more appropriate than adopting a pet of your own.