Pet Therapy for Bipolar
With contributions from Andrew.
Bipolar disorder is not an easy condition to manage, but many patients have found that one simple change can make a world of difference: spend some time with an animal. The attention of a loving pet or service animal can help you overcome mood swings, beat the isolation of depression, and even reduce the physical side effects of your disease and medication.
Pets also provide a sense of purpose, an obligation to something other than yourself, and that can be very important if you are having suicidal thoughts. But no matter where you are in your physical symptoms, emotional challenges or bipolar treatment, inviting an animal into your life can have many happy – and healing – consequences.
Why Should You Consider Getting a Pet?
Pets can be great companions for people with bipolar disorder. The companionship can often combat the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness that often come along with cycling moods. The need to care for a pet also provides you with a sense of purpose, and a daily routine which can help combat depressive episodes.
Pets can assist with the highs brought about during manic episodes too. There are even animals who are trained to assist people going through a manic episode.
Not only have trained service animals been shown to reduce anxiety amongst patients with bipolar disorder, but they’ve also been shown to reduce anxiety in a variety of other psychiatric illnesses too.
The Psychological Benefits of Animal Companionship
There’s a reason why animal therapy has been so successful for so many conditions. In fact, there are several ways a pet or service animal can calm and center those with mood disorders:
- Reassurance. The calm gaze of an animal can offer much-needed reassurance, especially when they’re trained to spot unusual events. Service animals can be incredibly helpful for bipolar patients who suffer from hallucinations, seizures, or delusions during manic episodes since they will spot and react to unsafe or unnatural events. By observing your animal’s reaction, you can tell whether there is a real danger or if you’re imagining the problem.
- Protection. Living with a mental illness can leave you feeling vulnerable day in and day out, which often leads to anxiety and paranoia. Having a loyal and reliable friend by your side can restore a sense of strength and confidence.
- Connection. Animals are natural icebreakers: they attract friendly attention, and they’re eager to meet new people. Taking a dog for a walk will not only force you to get outside, but it will also push you into social situations, which is important to overcome the sense of isolation brought on by depressive episodes.
- Comfort. Whether it’s a trained service animal or a loving pet, animals bring comfort – and that’s more important than you might imagine. When family and friends don’t seem to understand the how your bipolar disorder interferes with your life, it can be difficult for everyone; pets offer unwavering love and support, no questions asked. That reliable companionship can go far to restoring a bipolar patient’s sense of empathy.
Physical Improvements that Come with Pet Ownership
The physical presence of a pet or service animal is powerful medicine. In fact, the body responds in positive, measurable ways when you have a beloved animal by your side:
- Exercise. Regular exercise will help to counter the weight-gaining effects of common bipolar medication, boost feel-good hormones, and build self-esteem. Having a pet means getting active (to some degree); a dog will get you out into the fresh air every day, but even a cat or rabbit will engage you in play and activity. Sure, some pets stay in their tanks or cages for you to admire, but you still have to get out of bed to feed and care for them – and that can be enough to inject a little more activity into your home life.
- Stress relief. Petting a dog or cat promotes the release of oxytocin, a chemical in your brain that reduces stress and feeds emotional bonding. In fact, your pet releases this helpful hormone, too, making the relationship (and the benefits of companionship) truly reciprocal. Studies have shown that blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate all decrease when you pet a dog with whom you’ve formed a bond.
- Coping. Pet ownership is very therapeutic for children who are dealing with a chronic illness – whether it’s their own or that of a parent or caregiver. If you’re having a difficult time communicating the realities of your bipolar disorder to a child, you may find that a pet can bridge the gap and offer comfort when you cannot.
Next page: how animal-assisted therapy helps bipolar patients and advice on what type of pet is best for you.