The Healing Power of Dogs

I am a dog-mom. Yes, that’s right; I am the one that overshares about my dog. Countless pictures/videos and cute stories about “OMG, you’ll never believe what Cutler did yesterday…” – followed by a ridiculously detailed account of our daily walk.  My friends lovingly joke that I try to incorporate a story about my Frenchie into most conversations.

Naturally then, it’s no surprise that I incorporate my Frenchie into my work as a psychotherapist!

If you are a pet parent, I am certain you’ve been lucky enough to experience the amazing benefits animals can have.

I’d like to share with you some of the benefits animals have on our psychological well-being as well as how I incorporate this into my practice as a therapist.

  • Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is currently a widely used complimentary model to traditional medical and psychological interventions.
  • Research shows that dogs and cats have the ability to lower heart rate and decrease stress and anxiety.
  • Caring for a pet helps create a sense of purpose, teaches responsibility and helps us express emotion such as love and compassion.
  • Research shows that pets help children develop greater empathy, higher self-esteem, and increased participation in social and physical activities.
  • Having a dog can promote and motivate you to lead a healthier lifestyle

As a psychotherapist, I recognize the importance of complimentary approaches to traditional psychological interventions. This has been the foundation of our approach at The Centered Life and we hold great value in being able to treat our clients from multiple dimensions. Working with my dog Cutler, has shown me how animals can elevate the therapeutic experience for both the therapist and the client.

Here is what I have learned:

  • Kids may refuse to talk to you… but they will seldom refuse a Frenchie with a big tongue and warm smile. Using animals in therapy helps build rapport and make clients feel more at ease in the therapeutic setting
  • As a therapist, I often (psychologically) “hold” my client’s pain in session. Having an animal to help with physical touch and comfort is a profound way to help my clients feel momentary relief.
  • Sometimes, clients aren’t ready to verbalize their trauma or grief to another person. Animals allow open communication without fear of judgement or rejection.
  • Dogs are extremely instinctual and perceptive creatures. As a therapist, those are very important skills to have. I often depend on Cutler to help me see things about my clients I normally would need more cues to pick up on.

I feel privileged to be able to help others health through the power of the human (and animal) connection.

PS: Don’t think I wouldn’t end without sharing a snapshot of my co-author and co-therapist, Cutler

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Stay Well,

Valerie Spiropoulos, LCPC

SWEAT IT OUT

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It’s a no-brainer that physical exercise is good for your body! As well, it is one of the most effective ways to improve mental health. Speaking from experience, getting in a workout every day has been life changing. I cannot even begin to tell you how great I feel after leaving the gym. That does not mean it is a challenge getting there. Some days I have to really mentally prepare myself and other days my body just goes without thinking. I will tell you one thing- I have never regretted a single workout. The gym “has always been there for me”, whether I am upset, sad, lonely, excited, nervous, happy, etc. No matter what I am feeling, I know I have a healthy outlet available. I always look at it as “ME TIME”. It is done for nobody other than myself.

 

Exercise has many benefits including:

  • stress relief
  • memory improvement
  • mental clarity
  • better sleep
  • higher self-esteem
  • more energy
  • anxiety relief
  • stronger resilience
  • overall mood boost

 

New to exercise? Dreading that yoga class? Intimidated by weights? I encourage you to start small. And remember, it is okay to start small! Exercise when you have the most energy during the day.  Have a friend join you. Give yourself time to adjust if this is something new to your weekly routine. You do not need a gym membership to get in some exercise. Step outside and talk a walk/run. Put on some music and dance away. All you need is anywhere from 15-30 minutes at least 2X/week. I guarantee you will feel better!

 

To recap:

  • Start small
  • Exercise when your energy is highest
  • Have a workout buddy
  • Give yourself time to adjust to this new routine!
  • 15-30 minutes of exercise is all that is needed at least 2X/week

 

The Centered Life proudly partners with Knockout Women’s Boxing Club, a women’s only boxing club. The owner, Jessica Storch, takes pride in the friendly, safe, and welcoming atmosphere. If you would like to learn more about Knockout, their classes and services provided, please check visit the website at:

 

http://www.knockoutwomenboxing.com

 

Sweat it out,

Jennifer

Why Do We Feel The Need To Control Things

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Ever felt like things are spinning out of control? It must have been an unpleasant experience to say the least… We as humans have a deep need for a sense of control. When we feel out of control, we experience a range of powerful and very uncomfortable emotions, including tension, feeling powerless, of being unable to do anything about it. In reality, we do not actually have to be in control of things all the time; what we really seek is a sense of control. For example, when our parents controlled us when we were younger, we perhaps felt content because we trusted them to provide us the control we were seeking in our lives. Once we leave the nest, we continue to seek some sense of control by looking for advice from professionals, experts, and people in authority. When we experience a sense of control, we experience a sense of certainty, an understanding how things work, we are able to predict what will happen next, we are able to complete things, and hold on to the belief that people are consistent in their action.

Control is embedded in most of what we do. Think about rituals. Not only they are everywhere but they are intended to reassure us that everything is as it is and provide familiar framework for our daily lives. In addition to that, social norms and values tell us what to do, how to do things, what is right and wrong, what is good and what is bad. When everyone in a group follows the same norms and values as you do, you feel a sense of control. When you feel the sense of control, not only do you feel better, you feel happier.

I value the importance of having a sense of control because it has been linked with physical and mental health. People who feel in control of their lives report to feel happier, have better health, experience less physical aches and pains, recover faster from illness, and live longer. In conclusion, it is very important for us to feel in control even if we are not. Therefore I want you to ask yourself: “What I am in control of?” and “What are the things that are outside of my control?”

 

All the best,

 

Aneta

Fight Stigma


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As a therapist, I am a big proponent of face to face contact and having live conversation.  With that being said, I have really learned social media to be a great tool to spread awareness and shed light to fighting mental health stigma. A few months ago, I stumbled upon the page “schizophrenic.nyc” on Instagram.  Michelle, the founder of the page and clothing line company was kind enough to share her story with me as well as to allow me to share her inspiring story with others.

From her words to your eyes (and ears)-

Walking down the New York city streets it’s not hard to see someone homeless. Also, it’s apparent that most NYC homeless have a mental illness. Sometimes they are yelling or signaling towards people who are imaginary. Their body might be present, but their mind is somewhere else. This upsets me. Why? Because I have Schizophrenia and I’m not homeless. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to have support that makes it possible for me to live a “normal” life. Without the help of my family and friends I could easily be homeless. So I decided I wanted to give back. I wanted to start a company that could start a conversation about Mental Illness as well as help out with the NYC homeless population. This is why I started Schizophrenic.NYC. Schizophrenic.NYC is a clothing line that makes people talk about mental health. When a person with Schizophrenia looks at a plain rorschach test, they see it from a different perspective. By redesigning the test with new patterns and colors, now everyone is forced to look at it from a different perspective. It starts a discussion that most people never had before. We take a portion of the profits and donate to charities in NYC that help out with the mentally ill population. Social change in NYC. Join the movement.

 

I hope by reading Michelle’s story, you will be inspired at some capacity, whether it is internally motivating or it encourages you to spread mental health awareness. Mental illness is not a person’s identity and it certainly does not define them.

 

FIGHT STIGMA!

Jennifer

 

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11 Ways to Improve Sleep

As much as we would like to unwind at the end of the day, it can be difficult to turn off your mind before going to sleep. Stress can cause your bedtime routine to consist of worrying about anything you forgot to do today and making sure you remember everything that has to get done tomorrow. That is mentally exhausting and affecting your ability to get a restful sleep, to say the least.

Adults should average 7-8 hours of sleep per night; about 40% of Americans do not even come close! Even minimal sleep loss hinders your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. There is a big difference between getting enough sleep to function and getting enough sleep to function optimally. Improving your pre bedtime routine is essential if you want better sleep. Here is a list of ways to decrease anxiety and stress levels before bedtime in order to give your mind and body the rest it craves!

1.Set a worry time period for earlier in the day. Take 10-15 minutes mid day to make a list of things you need to get done in order to decrease racing worrying thoughts at night. This also prepares you for the next day.

2. Create a pre- sleep routine. Set aside 30 minutes for this. The mind needs you to separate your day from your night. Whatever consistent behaviors you put in routine will trigger your mind and body to relax and prepare for bed.

3. Aim to be in bed around the same time every night. This can be difficult, however your internal clock needs to be regulated in order to improve sleep hygiene.

4. Replace worrying with productive behaviors before your bedtime routine that will prepare you for the next day. You can lay out your clothes, prepare meals, review your to-do list, put coats/shoes/bags by the door, etc.

5. Practice relaxation techniques to calm anxiety and racing thoughts. Take a long, deep breath, in through your nose, noticing your abdomen rise. Hold the breath briefly. Exhale the breath as your abdomen deflates. Repeat this cycle between 6 to 10 times. There are many phones apps such as “Calm” that have guided breathing exercises to follow in order to ease your mind and body.

6. Reduce or eliminate caffeine intake later in the day. The effects of caffeine can last at least 4 hours.

7. Create an optimal sleep environment. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Keep your room dark, cool, and quiet. If you are someone who needs noise to sleep then try a white noise machine and put a timer on it so that it will not disrupt  your sleep throughout the night.

8. Increase physical activity. Aim to exercise 3-4 times a week for at least 30 minutes. Cardiovascular endurance helps the body decrease stress and regulate your mood. This will decrease feelings of anxiety and stress while preparing for bed.

9. Avoid using electronic devices before bed. Our circadian rhythms are sensitive to the blue light given off when using phones, computers, TVs, and tablets; which can cause a barrier to your body releasing sleep hormones.

10. Reserve your bed for sleep. Try not to text, watch TV, or do work tasks while in bed. This will trigger the body to begin to relax once you get into bed for sleep.

11. Increase positive thoughts before bed. The thoughts you have before falling asleep affect your unconscious mind and can make it difficult to have a restful sleep. Stay focused on your pre bedtime routine and remind yourself you have prepared to handle tomorrow. Staying present will help decrease anxious thoughts as well.

Healthy sleep is critical for your mental and physical health. Almost half of Americans do not receive the amount of sleep they need in order to function at their best. Try this above checklist for even a few days and see how your mood and energy are positively affected!