DOGS AND MENTAL HEALTH

How one dog can make the biggest difference to your mental health.

Advertisements

The companionship that a dog can offer you is a great way to reduce anxiety and stress. A dog can be a great source of comfort, companionship and motivation for their owners.

Dogs have been known for being a great motivator for people struggling with mental ill health. In many ways, any pet can help us to live mentally healthier lives, but dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression.

“Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.” -Kinky Friedman

It’s known that both cats and dogs can have calming effects on their owner just by cuddling them, sitting next to them or having a play around. Caring for a pet also gives your day a purpose and a sense of achievement. It also helps you feel valuable and needed as an owner.

Walking your dog often leads to conversations with other dog owners and this helps owners to stay socially connected and less withdrawn. People who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier.

Jack, my wee dog is great companion all day every day. He give me the greatest company, a sense of security and he even listens to me ranting and of loading my frustrations and in return; I get cuddles and kisses.

Jack is a mix breed being collie x lurcher so he needs his exercise and playing around with him is a great way to release my own negative energies plus I also get to burn off a few pounds too.

Pets have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. Dogs, for example, are able to understand many of the words we use, but they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good companion, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.

“No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you feel rich.” – Louis Sabin

Jack is like my own therapist, if I cry, he is by my side trying to kiss and snuggle, if I’m in bad form he was sneaky his way into my arms or to sit on my lap and when I am full of energy and happy, so is he. Jack provides valuable companionship and more importantly he adds a real joy to my life whilst giving me unconditional love.

– James Keenan

GRATITUDE

What is gratitude, how can we use gratitude, do you practice gratitude?

Gratitude is a quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. It’s not just gifts though, it goes far beyond that.

Gratitude, thankfulness or gratefulness is a feeling of appreciation felt by positive responses. The experiences of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions, with it being a topic of interest to ancient, medieval and modern philosophers.

Through life, appreciation is recognised as something valuable to you, which has nothing to do with its monetary worth, however what about the affirmations of goodness, the good things in the world, gifts and benefits that we’re all receiving.

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar

The source of goodness are outside of ourselves, that we acknowledge through other people, those people who gave us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.

Grateful living is a way of life which asks us to notice all that is already present and abundant from the tiniest things of beauty to the grandest of our blessings – and in so doing, to take nothing for granted.

We can learn to focus our attention on, and acknowledge, that life is a gift. Even in the most challenging of times, living gratefully makes us aware of, and available to, the opportunities that are always available; opportunities to learn and grow, and to extend ourselves with care and compassion to others.

Grateful Living is supported by daily practices, tools, habits of the mind and behaviours that can be learned, translated and applied to many aspects of our lives. It is also nourished in community and in relationships.

Small grateful acts every day can uplift us, so why not make a difference to another persons life, whether it be big or small. Random acts of kindness are beautiful gestures that can comfort you or the receipt.

Why not make time for someone you don’t know, maybe make a donation to a charity or bring freshly baked bun to your local emergency services. Offer your kindness to family and do something nice for a friend.

Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. ~ Joanna Macy

Each morning I wake up, I thank the universe for giving me another day, allowing me to stretch using all my muscles, allowing my lungs to help me breath and giving me another day to use all the abilities to get me through the day ahead.

I walk through nature giving gratitude to the sounds I hear, the smell of the summer grass, and appreciate the trees. I’m grateful for the shade and the daylight and I share my thankfulness to our weather, whether it’s warm, cold or wet.

I thank my guardian angel and archangels for keeping me safe and listening to my troubles and answering my prayers. I share my gratitude to everyone who deserves kindness, being everyone though especially to all those persons making a difference, hospital staff, employees, friends and charities.

I’m grateful to have the love of my partner, to have a man who accepts me for being myself.

I’ve had the worst upbringing, however it’s made me the person I am today. I show gratitude for the strengths and courage history has brought me. I show gratitude to the universe every single day keeping me steady on my feet and bringing my all the joy I receive.

Gratitude can change the outlook on your past, brings peace for today and can create your blessings for tomorrow.

The benefits of practicing gratitude are endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, gratitude is personal to each of us, but it’s all controlled by the same sources.

I’ve added this list of gratitude gestures which you can do over one month. Give it a shot and come your second month, it will be like you’ve been doing it for many years.

– James Keenan

ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

This is a blog I wrote for AMH, New Horizons in Downpatrick. A small insight to how how this wonderful organisation helped shape my life and gain some qualifications whilst on my journey through recovery.

I’m 30 years old and for 25 of those years I have been challenged over and over with the heaviest, deepest and darkest of experiences. I’ve felt lonely, weak, worthless, lifeless and distinct. I was bullied, I was abused, I was used, I was neglected, I was homeless, I was targeted in a terror attack, I had special needs, I watched the domestic violence within family life, I watched the Troubles from my bedroom window, I struggled with my identity, my sexuality, psychologically and physically.

I struggled mentally and emotionally, but I smiled, I joked, I laughed, I gave up my time to raise money, to volunteer and to help the community. I pretended I was normal. I pretended I was ordinary, but the fact is I was just a person, a human and a self-taught, self-managed and a genius of an actor.

I didn’t want to stand out from others. I didn’t want to be an obstacle, a thing people avoided. I simply didn’t want to be judged, yet I was that obstacle, I did stand out from others and I was judged. I wanted to be noticed for the right reasons and not for the bad, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to see myself when I looked in the mirror but realistically I saw a person I didn’t recognise .I attempted to end my life numerous times. I was unsuccessful, hospitalised and struggled through recovery.

A doctor said my actions was deliberate self-harm and was it? Absolutely not, I needed to escape. I wanted to escape. I had no control of my life and that needed to be changed. I lost my pride, my childhood, my teenage years, my early adulthood; I lost people I thought were my friends, I lost family who I thought I’d have for ever. I was betrayed and my sanity was stolen from me. I was struggling and gasping for breath as if I was drowning, unable to escape from the chains around my feet, arms and neck feeling as if I was anchored to the seabed.

Change was needed, so I began to look more into my inner-self, self-compassion, my values and ethics, I needed to find a distraction, I needed meditation in my life and began my search for inner peace. I thought I lost everything, but that was just a thought. I looked too deep in every little thing and found the skills to be able to categorise my thought process into realism. My search to find inner peace continued and I began to self-care. I eventually found strength and courage to learn and then to practice gratitude. I began to seek the positives in every negatives.

Support was what I needed, a listener, I needed compassion and some understanding. I was referred to AMH, New Horizons in Downpatrick by the mental health services in the South Eastern Trust. I was nervous, anxious and scared when I made my first initial visit to meet my key worker to plan my interested and create a time table. I instantly felt at home, the welcome was warming, the staff felt like friends and when my journey ended I felt as if staff where family.

The support was huge, I could call upon any of the staff in the many different areas of the organisation to ask for support or to answer a question and it was never a problem. Always smiling, always laughing, always involving you. The staff didn’t make me feel as if I was a service user, I felt part of the team. It felt like family.

The variety of educational programmes was huge, courses ranging from music, IT, gardening, to photography, customer service skills, yoga, health and social care, and management programmes stress, confidence and self- esteem.

The staff, the establishment, the organisation itself and all the positives that come with these factors has helped me grow to become the person I am today. I was timid, shy and felt lost at first and now I’m able to interact more positively with people. I am much more confident, I am able to voice my worries and concerns, I appreciate the values I gained, I’m grateful for the opportunities to finish with qualifications I worked hard for.

Not just staff, but supporters and the listening ears when it’s needed and more importantly it’s helped me understand mental health and has guided me back to employment and fulfilling my hopes, dreams and ambitions.

These guys at New Horizons and all the dedicated work they all do is tremendous and they shouldn’t be overlooked. These people are no superman or wonder-woman, they are real life heroes, assets to our community and the more people who are made aware of the organisation, the bigger the chance stigma around mental ill health will reduce and those affected by mental health can be supported through their recovery.

I’m so appreciative and privileged to have been involved and hope our paths cross within the near future. Thank you.

James Keenan

AMH New Horizons “Thank you James for sharing his story” – James has taken part in the “Working it Out Project” at AMH New Horizons. The project is part-funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020 and the Department for the Economy.

A SMILE THAT MAKES CAMBODIA

A journey I made in Cambodia in 2015 and 2016, a little insight through my journey and what you can expect during your visit too.

What’s a holiday without a bit of adventure? If you’ve an inkling towards the exciting side of tourism, Siem Reap has a lot to offer you. Whether it be cycling the day away through the countryside or munching on spiders you thought you’d only ever squish below your shoe, this Cambodian city has something for everyone.

A decade ago, Siem Reap was the place where you stayed, ate and grabbed a beer or two between explorations of Cambodia’s 12th-century temple complex Angkor Wat. Now the city that Angkor made is something of a destination itself, luring visitors with a lively and varied dining scene, stylish hotels, genial residents and a laid-back river town ambience. 

There is a growing community of Cambodian and international artists, performers and designers reviving traditional arts and experimenting with new means of creative expression, but please don’t expect dancing animals at Phare, the Cambodian Circus. A height of creativity, the circus runs every evening filled with dance, music, storytelling and circus arts come together in a sophisticated hourlong show staged by students and graduates of Phare Performing Social Enterprise’s Battambang school, which provides free arts education to economically and socially challenged Cambodian youth. 

In the narrow streets or by the town river, you will find stands of tempting iced coffees made up with condensed milk and syrup or you could head to Little Red Fox Espresso, for a taste of luxury expressos. 

At night you’re in for a treat when the narrow streets and open areas expand with lights and stalls of the Cambodia Night Market, a place for Cambodian designers to showcase their admirable work to sell. What makes this market special, its mostly made up with homemade, recycled materials that are fabulous pieces of art, from sandals and bags to wallets and teddy bears.

The best way to avoid the crowds at Angkor Wat is to rise before the sun and venture beyond the main temples. You can travel the fun way by tuk-tuk at 4 a.m. to be at the entrance to Angkor Archaeological Park, however the view is outstanding with the sun reflecting against the old stone of the temples, the experience itself is something magical. You can also cycle to the temples, which is a bit of a track but by goodness its great fun. I did both ways of transport, tuk-tut one day and bicycle the next. The countryside is beautiful, the temples are outstanding, the silence around the temples delivers a sense of peace whilst the surrounding areas covered in green forest with monkeys swinging from tree-tree and elephants walking along the roadsides, connecting with nature appreciating the environment around you brings you a huge sense of mindfulness. 

Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument and is one of the seven wonders of the world. This iconic temple complex in the Siem Reap province of Cambodia attracts nearly 2.5 million foreign visitors annually, a number that continues to grow each year, yet province remains one of the poorest in the country.

The passing tourists can do their part to spread the tourism wealth by staying a few extra days to explore beyond Angkor Wat and contribute to the local economy, conservation projects, and social enterprises that are paving the way towards a brighter future for locals and creating meaningful experiences for visitors

There are so many NGO’s (Non-Government Organisations) that allow volunteers to help make change to the poorest communities in Cambodia by offering your time and a small fee. This was my main purpose to visit Cambodia, an experience that was something I’ll never forget. 

I joined forces with Volunteer Building Cambodia by carrying out a skydive at the Coast of Northern Ireland and a abseil down the most famous and most bombed Hotel in the world in the heart of Belfast City to raise funds. 

The simple, sturdy Khmer-style wooden houses provide shelter and security for Cambodian families living in need. Poor education, lack of skills and a shortage of job opportunities mean many rural Cambodians are still living in extreme poverty with inadequate shelter.

The new builds replace fragile structures that offer little protection from the elements. I seen first-hand how improved living conditions change lives, through better sanitation, increased security, better sleeping arrangements and healthier living. Children in secure homes are less likely to get sick and more likely to attend school. It’s incredible.

VBC have achieved to build and provide over40 wells, 85 toilets, a warehouse, a community Centre with four classrooms, computer room and a library and over 200 houses with the help of volunteers across the world to donate, sponsor and visit to help be part of the organisation raising more than $900,000 in sponsorship.

This is incredible for VBC to be a small, grass rooted organisation that started by one-man Sinn Meang and a small team of builders. 

To think, the poverty rates are high in rural Cambodia, where many people are still living on less than $1 a day. The impacts of inadequate housing can take its toll on these families. I saw children who don’t go to school and many having health problems through lack of sanitation or secure housing and sleeping arrangements, yet their happiness across as if they have absolutely everything in the world. 

These guys prove that all you need is love and a smile to be rich. I couldn’t be prouder of these families for doing what they do on a day-to-day basis, the love is something I have never witnessed before.

I was lucky enough to meet some amazing people during my time there – locals and tourists and I left feeling inspired and that I had helped make a positive difference to the lives of the families that I built for. I loved all of it! It was everything and more that I hoped for. Building with VBC was very enjoyable. I learnt a lot through my experiences, how to appreciate the many blessings I took for granted and how heart-warming it is to give back to society. The smiles on the faces of the locals was my main purpose to keep motivated to continue, the joy was priceless. 

As the sun sets upon the magnificent Angkor temples, the party in Siem Reap city begins. Nightlife in the iconic Kingdom of Wonder offers an alluring variety of pubs, clubs, cocktail bars, and everything in between. In one quick stride down major roads in the city, you can indulge in a cold Angkor draft beer, bust a move on the infamous Pub Street and chow down on a fried tarantula. The Siem Reap nightlife scene offers an abundance of options for all types of travellers for a fun night out in South East Asia.

It’s with people from all over the world filling the streets dancing, drinking, eating, and looking for a thrill, the nightlife has a magnetic energy unlike anywhere else. Due to the city’s small size and concentration of most nightlife options located centrally around Pub Street.

The magic of Siem Reap started when I stepped of the plane, the extreme heat hitting my body, the quietness of the airport and the dirt track roads. The closer I got to the centre of the city, the busier it became with tuk-tuks, motorcycles and bicycles dodging one another, the stands at the side of the roads, children barefoot playing by the rubbish. The blurring music of Pub Street and the night lights dazzling my eyes and traditional dancers performing on the side streets. It was spectacular. 

What about my visit to the Pagoda every evening at 5pm. Wat Preah Prom Rath Pagoda is one of the most beautiful pagodas in Siem Reap. It’s a real beauty and my favourite, located by the river side near the Old Market. The monastery has many fine, colourful wall paintings and you will find many modern statues inside. Often, you will see monks who greet you with a smile and a sign of sampeah.

I visited every evening by walking around the grounds so peacefully taking in the colours of the murals and shrines whilst listening to nature, energizing myself inner self to meditate whilst sitting with the monks of the pagoda and listening to their chants and I closed my eyes and listened. It is something I do at home now.

I set of to Cambodia to meet with a pen pal who moved from Australia to Cambodia after his volunteering stint and he ended up working fulltime at VBC. It was amazing to meet after years of emailing and writing letters. Our meet was special, I felt as if I knew him my entire life. If it wasn’t for Jason, I doubt I would have ever visited Cambodia, so he gave me one of the best experiences of my life giving me hope, adventure, experience, friendship and leaving me inspired. I made many friends, some very close who I love and adore today. 

I jetted of from Ireland to Cambodia with a broad mind, taking everything for granted, my phone charger, a cooker, electricity, school. I knew it was a country experiencing poverty so I thought I would need to do my bit. 

Despite my fear of heights, I took on a skydive on the coast of Northern Ireland and an abseiled down the famous, most bombed hotel in the world raising a fantastic $5,000. 

My experiences extended far and beyond my expectations, I left the Country on my two visits feeling part of the culture of Cambodia. I loved Cambodia that much I could see a future there for me, however with other commitments, I needed to return home. I didn’t leave empty handed, I left this beautiful Country rich with happiness, friends, cherished memories and special moments. I managed to build 3 houses, a toilet, home repairs on another house, made a start on the community centre and left blessed by the Khmer Buddhist Monks.

When I arrived home, I needed to do more, I sponsored a family. A single mum and four children, I donated money for a lengthy period providing them with food and education for the children each month. Receiving pictures of these beautiful people enriched me with sincere proudness.

If you ever find yourself stuck for a holiday, I recommend Cambodia for an adventure of a lifetime experiencing culture, the outstanding natural beauty of the temples and the gift of volunteering, you will not leave disappointed.

James Keenan

THE POWER TO CREATING YOUR FUTURE

We can change our future in seconds, a future controlled by our thoughts and what we do now will make an impact one way or another in your later life.

The person you will be in 5 years’ time will be based on the things you read and watch on television and the people you hang around with today. This may come across as nonsense, but in reality it’s very true, but it just doesn’t apply to you, it applies to everybody as well. 

You, the person you will be in the future is based on everything you do today. The people you hang around with, more so the people you listen to. The stories you learn, the opinions you believe, the books you read and the videos you watch – all this information you take in – both positive and negative will affect your future one way or another. The activities you do, whether it’s exercise or holiday, a trip to town or a night at the movies This will all show in your future.

It’s the smallest of things that we may not acknowledge, the things we take for granted all day. The food you eat today will affect your future on a visual and energy level. The same applies with your and thought process. What you feed your mind will shape your future massively. If all you do is take in all the negatives, well I guess that’s what your future is going to be made up of? 

Set yourself goals to aim for, inspire yourself to see the the positives in everything. The more you feed your mind with successful thoughts, and surround yourself with those who have the same ambitions. It doesn’t matter where your information comes from – you may read, you may get it from podcasts or videos – it doesn’t matter, just make sure you keep feeding your mind every minute of every hour, each day. Time is critical. 

Your future self is always telling your mind to show some empowerment, some sort of discipline to stop with the judgement, long periods on your smartphones, to spend less time feeding your bad habits and learn to focus on the important stuff, all the positives, the roads to successfulness. 

Don’t ever lose your life direction to be like other people. I have two separate opinions on this. You can work your hardest now to strive to have fun later or you can have fun now, study later and still have fun. It’s optional, but don’t go jumping in head first, ask yourself what is your gut telling you, what is your head telling you and what is your heart telling you. I attend to follow my heart. Just don’t lose focus on what you do every day for it’s each day, each tiny little things that will dictate your future. What you want out of life, you must put in. 

If you want success, put it in there, keep it in there and remember it’s there. Live for your dreams. If you want health and fitness, put it in there. If you want peace, love and happiness, put it in there. If you want a strong successful business, put it in there. Your actions equal your results. Your thoughts become things. What you put out there you attract. The law of attraction is a powerful thing and it’s only you who can put out to the universe to create the destiny you want. 

It may come across as being silly, but acknowledge what you are thinking, what you feel and hear, what you believe. Keep teeling yourself “my mind is strong, I am strong, my thoughts are strong, my beliefs are strong, my life is strong. They say I can’t, but I can! They say I won’t, but I will! They say I’m not, but I am. I am limitless. There is nothing I cannot be. There is nothing that an not do. There is nothing that I cannot have.”

“I hold the power to my future, to my dreams, I have control of my life now and I will continue to use my strength, my abilities, my positivity, my aims, goals and ambitions. I will be the person I created”

Who ever said we don’t have powers? We all as individual hold the ability to have such powers, but you need to believe it. You need to feed it. You need to know how to create it. 

James Keenan