The Magic of Animals

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It has been well-reported that animals can help reduce stress levels and be good companions for those who spend a lot of time at home and/or have a physical or mental illness.

This includes people who live with a chronic illness like thyroid disease. 

I have, at the moment, one pet. A gerbil named Sweetie.

Rachel, holding her pet gerbil Sweetie

That’s me and her, taken today!

I love her to pieces, even though she’s tiny. I have had many gerbils in the past few years alone, as they sadly only live to around three years old.

Now Sweetie is almost like my spirit animal. At just three weeks old, she suffered a stroke and miraculously survived. She’s blown peoples’ minds with how well she has done, given any opportunity. I feel like we have that connection, since I was hit with this horrible thing called hypothyroidism (you might have heard of it?) and although it hasn’t been easy, I believe it to be a big part of making me into the person I am now. Both Sweetie and I have experienced being knocked down, but came back fighting.

Now, Sweetie is small, yes, but she’s affectionate, cute and never judgmental or critical, like how some humans can be. It’s true, she’s not a cat or dog, which are often viewed as the superior pet of choice, but I love her to pieces still. I woke up this morning feeling rough from my thyroid condition, and I came down to the living room to her cheeky little face waiting for me. I opened her cage door and she hopped out on to my hand, sniffed my face and sat with me. That’s when I took the photo above.

Holding something so precious in my hand reminds me of how vulnerable some things are, and how much they rely on us for survival.

And all lives matter. No matter how big or small.

I feel protective of any animals in my care and they ignite a passion in me similar to that for the people who join my support group; when they ask for help and explain what rough ride they’ve had with having hypothyroidism.

Then, and some of you won’t like the thought of this, I let Sweetie out for her daily run around the living room. It’s good for her mentally, as it stimulates her, and she finds it fun exploring. It’s also good for her physically. She’s no young gerbil now at three years old, so all these things are important to keep her healthy. And as I watched her darting around, peeping in and out of  things, it made me smile. It made my heart beam and it made me happy. I get joy and happiness out of her being happy, and that’s got to be good, right?

After watching her for quite some time, I put her back in her cage (which she wasn’t happy about) and I noticed that I felt a lot better. I was feeling less tired, I felt more positive, and the feeling when I got out of bed, of “Urgh, I just want a lazy day, today” turned in to “Right, let’s tidy up, have a clean and spend the afternoon outside in the sun!”

My negative, groggy, grumpy, fatigue feelings were gone. Even my headache had improved.

Online, I found information that said spending time with an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin, and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.[1]

Now, considering I have high-cortisol (‘adrenal fatigue‘), which causes me symptoms such as fatigue, low motivation and stress, I consider it no coincidence that Sweetie probably had an affect on lowering that. Call me crazy if you will, but science shows it is quite possible!

Research has also found that owning a cat or dog for example can:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce stress hormones
  • Boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain
  • Be good for the heart [2]

There was a 20 year study that concluded people who had never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack, than those who had owned one.

In another study, it showed that dog owners actually had a significantly better rate of survival one year after a heart attack.

One study of Chinese women found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, reported better fitness levels and fewer sick days, and saw their doctors less often than people without dogs. [3]

Pets offer unconditional love and non-judgemental ears. They can listen to your problems about struggling with a health condition such as hypothyroidism, and not make you feel like you’re wasting their time, which is how you may feel with some people.

Many thyroid patients also experience mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and pets are known to help living with that, too.

Animals offer unconditional, uncomplicated love. They provide purpose, routine, responsibility and social interaction, which is all very important for those who feel alone, low, useless or helpless; all feelings I felt when I was suffering from depression and under-treated hypothyroidism.

Do you have a pet or visit someone with animals, and notice that they have helped your battle with hypothyroidism, depression, anxiety etc.? I’d love to hear about it below.

You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.

References:

[1] https://animalsmart.org/species/dogs/dogs-help-reduce-stress

[2] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htm

[3] https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/pets-depression

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Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism

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