Full confession: I often struggle with severe bouts of anxiety and occasional depression. Sometimes, the pressures of the world get too much for me, and/or I blow something small out of proportion until I have a mini meltdown. I do a number of things to try to curtail the effects of my anxiety on a daily basis, from yoga to taking medication to singing (seriously). But the one thing (or rather, two things) that seem to help me more than anything else are my cats.
And apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way. Many mental health experts agree that having a cat can make a major difference to someone dealing with such mental health disorders. In fact, they've even been proven to help draw children with autism out of their shells.
Cats are the most unobtrusive little creatures. They always approach cautiously, never startle you with loud noises or bold actions. They're one of the few animals that react complementarily to you; if you offer a comforting scratch, they will usually respond with an appreciative purr and/or a nuzzle. No matter how extreme my anxiety gets, their presence can usually calm me down pretty quickly. It's no voodoo — it's just the quintessential cat nature. Here's how they do it.
Just petting your cat is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety, but when they purr, it takes the healing to a whole other level. The rhythmic pattern of a purr can help lower blood pressure and even heal bones faster. Pretty cool, huh?
One of the greatest things about having a cat (or any pet, really) is that they have needs that you must meet. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but when you're anxious, one of the best things you can do is distract yourself with something else, even if it's as mundane as cleaning the cat box. You simply feel better when you know you're making your cats' lives better.
This sort of goes with the above reason, but it deserves its own category, because the one thing that's better than a distraction is a funny distraction. And let's face it, cats are hilarious. I think it lies in how serious or focused they come across, then they make a misstep and fall off the table, and suddenly you're laughing on the floor with them because it's so funny. And like that, you can't remember what it was that was making you anxious.
My cats have this inherent ability to know when I'm hurt, frazzled or sick, and respond accordingly, snuggling up next to me to just hang. They don't ask what's wrong or bark for attention, they just lend me their physical support. Sometimes, knowing that they're there for you is enough to turn things around.
Having anxiety can be very lonely. Suddenly you're all alone in this feeling, because no one else seems to understand it. But you know who does? Cats. They know because they get anxious too — all the time. Cats are the only other living things I've met that get as easily startled as I do. So when I'm feeling really bad and I'm on my own, I try to remember that I've got two equally anxious friends in the other room.
This may sound silly, but having anxiety is often hard for me to admit, because it makes me feel like I'm somewhat disabled. Thus, when I talk about the anxious feelings I'm having with my family or friends, I can end up feeling like I'm crazy for having these thoughts. However, when I talk to my cats (yes, sometimes I do that), I only receive love and encouragement from them. You don't always need words to know you're being supported, and that's always evident when I look into their big, round eyes.
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