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How Your Pet Can Help Fight Depression

Those who suffer from clinical depression know the empty feeling of being alone at home. Even when people are around, they can still feel lonely or unvalued. Even people who aren't clinically depressed but who experience occasional down times may sometimes have difficulty sharing feelings with family members or friends.

Research shows that keeping a family pet, one that you can cuddle and talk to, can have a positive effect on those struggling with depression. It doesn't matter whether the person is married or has children; a cat or dog, in particular, can help to smooth away negative emotions that keep him or her in the doldrums. Here are some tips for enjoying your pet during those difficult times.

1. Set aside some playtime. A pet can meet a variety of needs, depending on how a person is feeling on a given day. If you're buoyant, but have no one to share it with, take the dog outside and toss a ball around, letting your pup bring it back after each throw. The two of you can take a neighborhood walk or head off to the park for a hike, too. Sharing physical activity and fresh air can help to sweep away those mental cobwebs. Even if you're feeling disappointed, angry, or hurt, exercising can help you feel better.

2. Enjoy a cuddle. Sometimes everyone can use a hug. Sit beside your pooch or kitty on the floor or sofa, and stroke your pet's fur while reflecting on the things that make you happy. Research shows that cuddling a pet can lower blood pressure and stimulate immune function while releasing endorphins to help your body and mood feel better.

3. Talk away. You can share any secret or describe any emotions you want to without fear of your pet's breaching the confidence. Just make sure no one else is in hearing distance, and spill your heart's woes. Your pet will most likely be able to sense your need for affection and understanding and be willing to provide those things. You'll feel better getting unpleasant things out of your system.

4. Never take out negative emotions on your pet. Kicking, pushing, yelling, or otherwise hurting an animal is never right, even if it would make you feel better. In fact, if such behavior does improve your mood, something is drastically wrong. Be sensitive to your cat or dog's needs for patience and understanding, too.

5. Have realistic expectations. Don't assume that your pet will be able to take the place of a human confidante or a professional counselor. Cultivate friendships with people you can trust, although this will take time. If your depression is deep, or lasts more than a week or two, make an appointment with a therapist to discuss possible underlying causes.

Pet therapy is just one of the many ways that depression patients can learn to manage their symptoms while under a physician's or psychologist's care. If you are unable to care for a pet properly due to your job schedule or living conditions, don't keep one that will suffer because of these constraints. Instead, look for other ways to manage depression symptoms with the support of professional experts.

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