Pets – A Valuable Part of our Circle of Support

This morning’s Resources for Recovering Resilience post – Human Brains – Pets’ Brains – Why We Love Pets and Why They Love Us – explores the similarities in human brains and animal brains that allow for emotional communication and understanding between species.

The exercise below offers a way to use the love we feel for our pets and that they offer us to create a circle of support when times are hard and situations are challenging. One of my clients has imagined a friendly golden Labrador accompanying him to his chemotherapy appointments; he can’t bring a live dog into the clinic, but he can get the reassurance and comfort from a pet in his imagination.

Evoking an Imaginary Pet for Comfort and Support

1. Sit comfortably; come into a sense of presence in your body; notice the gentle rhythm of your breath, nourishing as it flows in, soothing as it flows out.

2. Evoke an image your own dog (if you have one) or imagine a dog that is warm, friendly, comforting to be with. Imagine this companion in as much detail as you can. Get a felt sense of the comfort and soothing provided by being in this dog’s company.

3. Imagine bringing this dog with you into a situation that is potentially stressful. (It does not matter to the brain whether this could ever happen in real life. The visualization is real to the brain and helps regulate your own nervous system.) Walk yourself through all the steps of being in this situation with your imaginary companion. Feel a sense of comfort and ease in this situation when your companion dog is with you.

4. Repeat this visualization many times before you go into the actual situation; repeat experiencing a sense of comfort and ease as you repeat the visualization. The repetition helps install both the visualization in your brain and the felt sense of comfort in your body.

5. Use this visualization the next time you are actually in a stressful situation. Notice any difference that having your friendly imaginary companion helps provide comfort and ease.