Therapy, Dogs, and Medication.

1. Therapy

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I’ve been meeting with a therapist regularly for almost 10 years, and it has greatly helped me to manage my feelings of anxiety. For me, anxiety would build when I kept my fears and worries trapped inside. In my mind, without the necessary space to be released, these fears would grow and become distorted.

I find that being able to talk openly about my deepest feelings to another person, without worrying about gossip or judgment, allows me to release the build-up of anxiety.

Talk therapy also taught me how to be vulnerable in one-on-one relationships where trust has been established. I’ve increased my self-awareness, and learned cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques for regulating my emotions, reducing stress, and taking care of myself on a daily basis.

2. Having a pet(s)

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I grew up with pets, but after I left for college, I interacted with animals far less. For most of my twenties I didn’t own a pet. I dreamt of getting a dog, and would search pet adoption websites for fun. But I always came up with an excuse as to why I wasn’t ready to adopt, such as lack of time or finances to properly care for an animal.

Finally, when I was 28 and single, I got serious about adoption. I adopted a Pomeranian named Penny from a breeder in Iowa. She was three months old and a small, sweet, quivering little girl-pup when I first met her and picked her up at the airport. I took her home and bathed her, then proceeded to fall in love, mothering her day and night. Caring for her came naturally to me, and I found I was very capable of feeding, walking, and training her.

The time and finances I had worried about earlier materialized. I changed my schedule around in order to have more time to take care of my pet. I stopped spending money in other areas of my life so that I could invest in Penny.

Now, almost five years later, I’m married with a baby on the way, and my husband and I own two dogs, Penny and Satchi. Our dogs are an endless source of love and happiness. Cuddling with my dogs is a huge stress-release for me when I get home from work, and I love snuggling and playing with our dogs when I first wake up, or before bedtime. Often, my husband and I walk our dogs together, which is a great bonding activity. Getting outside for exercise in order to take care of the dogs keeps us healthy, as well.

Therese J. Borchard, founder of Project Hope & Beyond, writes about the many ways pets can improve our mental health, including lowering blood pressure, increasing serotonin and dopamine, and teaching us how to be more responsible. I often tell people that adopting Penny was one of the best things I ever did. She showed me how to love again, and helped me to mature in a myriad of ways.

3. Medication

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There was a time in my adult life when I went through a personal crisis and found it very challenging to maintain an emotional equilibrium on a daily basis. My anxiety was high, and I tried to find balance and stability through therapy and other stress-reduction techniques, like yoga. But, unlike in the past, it wasn’t enough. I truly needed additional help to get through this time in my life, and so I began seeing a psychiatrist, who prescribed to me a low-dose anti-anxiety medication. It has since done wonders for me, and during my crisis it greatly helped me to re-stabilize.

At first, I resisted visiting a psychiatrist and taking medication at all. I initially hated the idea because I felt embarrassed, even ashamed, that I was not able to conquer my anxiety on my own through therapy and other methods of self-care I had developed.

However, I realized that I wanted to live my life to the fullest and that in order to take care of myself in the best possible way, and by extension, to care for those around me, I needed the help of medication. In the same way that I exercise to take care of my physical body, I was willing to take medication in order to care for my mind and emotions in the best possible way. Medication is an option for short-term and long-term treatment that I recommend consulting a doctor about and being open to exploring. I am thankful that I lovingly took care of myself by taking medication.

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