Tagarchief: #mental

The best things about having a dog

Today our dog Marley turns 7 month old it will also be a month since he joined our family. And it really feels like he belongs here, with us. Marley is a rescue dog, found as a 3 month old puppy in Bacau, Romania. Sheltered in a dog rescue shelter, brought by the foundation @hulpdoetleven to The Netherlands. Marley is super cute, super smart and super family friendly. It took our two cats only a few days to accept him, and they are getting closer every day. Yeay!

Marley and me first time at the beach

About 6 years ago we said goodbye to our old dog Emma. We raised her as a puppy, she was like our first child, and when we had to put her to sleep when she was 12 our heart broke. We decided not to get another dog. Not only because the emotional attachment to our old dog, but also for the practical reasons which seem very logical: too busy with work, school, it’s time consuming, we don’t need to go outside anymore when it rains, etc.  But our daughter who grew up with a dog, kept talking about getting one again. She was often bringing the subject up, trying to persuade us, begging and charming us.  It took us about 2-3 years of every now and then discussions until we decided to get another dog. And now that we have had Marley for a month, I can only say that there are just so many benefits of having a dog, and only a few impediments… that really do not count. Allow me to sum up a few of the best things about having a dog.

  1. Fresh air. You go outside much more often and get fresh air; this was the argument our 13-year-old daughter kept using. And she was telling is that she  and us would benefit from it and she was of course right. You have to walk the dog at least 3 times a day, as a puppy even more often. Of course you can just walk around the block, but many times you look for parks, forests, lakes or sea sides, and the quality of air is much better there. Your whole body gets better oxygenated, especially your brain, which makes you focus better on your work, be more creative and  also cope better with stressful situations.
  2. Physical well-being. Because you have to walk the dog a few times a day, you simply get more physical exercise. We all live in a much to sedentary world, where sitting all day long (behind a desk working on our laptop or on a sofa watching our favourite series) does lots of damage to our bodies. Before we had Marley I struggled many days with reaching my goals of 10.000 steps a day. Now I know I walk enough every day, so no need to wear my activity tracker anymore. The most natural way of moving our body for us humans is walking. Of course any type of sports is healthy, biking, swimming, tennis, but walking is essential for our joints, posture, intestinal activity, spine or muscle tension. Having a dog makes you go out, walk, move, engage in physical activity, breathe fresh air (see no 1) and all of this makes you really feel your overall physical well-being improving. Just one month of having a dog, eating sweets for Saint Nicholas, about 4 Christmas diners and a New Year’s Eve one, and not to forget all the extra alcohol intake, and yet I feel lighter and more fit than a month ago.
  3. Social interaction. I have discovered more about my neighbourhood in this past month than in the 4,5 years I live here just by walking the dog. We are fortunate enough to live opposite a park, where many dog owners from around us walk their dogs. And yes, most of them I know now by the name of their dogs, but still, I get to chat on almost a daily basis with many new people. Of course about our dogs and how funny, sweet or naughty they are, but also about so many other things. And not only in our park, but in many other places I go walk Marley. For me, working a lot from home, this gives an extra social dimension to my daily encounters. And I love it.
  4. Mood up. Spending even only 10 minutes with my dog and I already feel much better. There is something in the way a dog wiggles his tale, jumps around, cuddles, runs to play with other dogs, enjoys mud, lies on his back to get more cuddles, looks like he is smiling all the time, and many more of these kind of behaviour, that just increases my mood almost instantly. Research has shown that playing with your dog increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which are directly linked with your perception of pleasure and happiness. I am pretty sure this was a very thorough research. Dogs are also about your mental well-being.

    Dog and daughter enjoying nature
  5. Teaches children and teens responsibility. While our daughter wanted a dog very much, and found all sorts of arguments in favour of getting a dog, we did talk also about the responsibilities that go with it. Because a dog needs walking and food and care and cleaning after sometimes. Of course talk is just talk, so we were very interested to see how she will take upon her deal of responsibilities towards the dog. But she did. She walks Marley every day after school, and sometimes she needs to take the early morning shift. And she often joins one of us too when we go outside. She not only feeds the cats, but also the dog now. And when the dog was still having little accidents in the house, she cleaned up after him. I am very proud of her and I hope she will stick to this level of commitment to her pets.
  6.  Routine. A dog needs routine, or otherwise his bladder won’t be properly trained and we will be less happy too. And guess what, we humans also thrive when we have a better daily routine. Having to get up at a certain time in the morning and walk Marley, makes my head clear after taking in fresh air, and having already move my body makes me more ready to start with my plans for the day. I am not very good at following my daily routine by myself, so having a dog really helps me a lot.
  7. No more bore.  Actually, I don’t get bored easily, I always have things to do, plans to follow, dreams to create, and often not enough hours in a day. But I also like to take my time and wind down. And working by myself can sometimes feel like too soloistic and in need of someone to share my ideas or worries with. Well, Marley is a great asset. I can practice with him talks and trainings and he never finds any of my ideas silly.
Marley sleeping after a long walk.

So here we are, just a few days in the new year, after many celebrations. The clean sheet of 2018. Although every new day is a new beginning,  a new year has something magical. Fresh and full of possibilities. I am not (anymore) a new year resolution type. And I hope you don’t set too high goals to achieve yourself. It’s always tricky, you know. But if you are looking for more social contacts, more exercise, more fresh air, more fun and simply…to experience more moments of joy in your every day life, I wholeheartedly suggest to get a dog!

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Knitting myself healthy

There have been a few hard weeks lately. Nothing came out of my hands. My to do list got longer, my goals fuzzier, my frustrations heavier. I don’t know exactly what hit me. Maybe it’s just a good old autumn depression, I used to be very sensitive to that years ago. I would just crawl up on the sofa after work and try to see as less people as possible in my free time. Maybe this year is dealing with some personal issues a part of it. Maybe it is a combination. But the main thing is that I was mostly feeling down, depressed, lacking energy and just wanting to be left alone.

It is still hard to just say it out loud: I am not so well, I am feeling down. Even saying that to yourself is hard, because it means you really have to acknowledge it. And when you do that, when you admit that to yourself, you just took the first towards healing yourself.
And that is what I did. Well, actually saying it was still hard, I texted my husband one tough afternoon and I felt so relieved afterwards. Just by texting that I got a little energy shot through my veins, actually felt is. Next, I talked to a friend. And then to another. And before I knew it I just said to myself I am feeling depressed, I need to find a way to get out of here.

So, how to get out of this? If it would be so simple, I am sure depression wasn’t a thing anymore. But it is, and it is very personal, and there is no one size fits all cure. At first I pushed myself to do more physical exercise. And even though I am jogging, I could not find the energy to do more. Then I pushed myself to maybe study or read more, work related, but that didn’t work either. Then I pushed myself to work more, but even though I had plenty of ideas, everything I was trying to achieve just crumbled down from lack of enthusiasm, inspiration and again lack of energy. I was going round in circles and hated it. I didn’t feel productive, achieving , contributing. Which made me feel even more depressed.

Then I had the epiphany that in order to break this vicious circle, I needed to do whatever really made me happy and would give me energy. Something totally out of my comfort zone. Something new. Something that maybe scared me but that I really wanted to do. But what was that?

The answer came in a Facebook post one day, at random. Someone mentioned that there is a lady who is willing to teach others how to knit. And by reading that, I immediately felt a little outburst of excitement going through my body. If there is something I have always wanted to learn how to do, it was knitting and crocheting. My grandmother used to make us the most beautiful creations when I was young, and I was mesmerised but her skills. But I never learned how to do it. And for years I was talking about learning how to knit, but I was scared I couldn’t. So I never really tried, or gave up after a few attempts. Up until now. I contacted this lady, she started teaching me, and within a few weeks I finished my first knitting project. I couldn’t be more proud!

My grandmother Nana and me, wearing her knitted angora hat (angora is a big no no now) and a shawl

Knitting is not something I am leaning because I have to. Or because I could make a career out of it and earn more money. I am doing it for me. It gives me satisfaction, which makes me feel good about myself, and that positives feeling gives me back my energy. I have literary something on my hands, I have to concentrate, focus, create, count, make mistakes and fix them, and I get to see how something is growing out of my hands.

In the olden days there was popular knowledge that knitting is benefiting your mental health. And today, more and more scientific research shows that the benefits of knitting and other handicrafts goes much further. It’s an anti-stressing activity, your blood pressure goes down, you focus better, it calms you when in crises, it helps slowing the decline of brain function and more. Studies have showed that people with depression start feeling more happiness after learning how to knit and that there is a direct link between our hands and brain that activates the happiness centre in our brain. This article for the New York Times gives a good overview of the latest findings over the Health Benefits of Knitting.

Benefits of knitting are numerous.

And me, I couldn’t agree more. I feel how the fog is being lift, I have more clarity and I slowly have more energy. I am still learning how to knit and I am discovering more and more techniques each step of the way. Although I didn’t start knitting because I was aware of all these benefits, my inner compass guided me. Instinctively, intuitively, I knew its was the right thing to do. It is so worth it.