June 14, 2010

Must Love Dogs or At Least Want to Walk One

In previous posts I have talked about the challenge of finding friends and how to make small talk once you meet new people. Cultivating healthy friendships and getting social support are often such an integral part of therapy.

Not long ago I read a blog post on the topic, 13 Ways to Make Friends. You can read the full post, here.

There are a few additions in the 13 Ways that I hadn't talked about in my posts so I thought I would mention three of them here.

Volunteering: Not only will you come into contact with other caring, proactive fellow volunteers, but receptive and appreciative individuals at the receiving end of your efforts as well. Research has shown that engaging in meaningful work and activities helps alleviate depression, for example.

In short, good feelings can come from helping others.

I should know.

In my city of Austin, Texas, checking out the Get Involved section on the KUT public radio website is a great way to explore volunteer opportunities.

You might check out the websites of your local radio stations, newspapers, churches, or simply ask around. In addition to finding worthwhile volunteer work, asking someone to share their volunteer experiences is a great way to get someone to open up to you.

Get Cyber-Social: Though not as beneficial as face-to-face interactions, joining internet support groups and social networking sites have been shown to help lift a person's spirits and decrease feelings of loneliness. Sometimes that sense of "not being alone" via online discussion forums and emails can add to one's positive wellbeing. Feeling validated in one's thoughts, opinions, and experiences is described as helpful by many.

Whether you explore medical conditions, mental health issues, books, art, music, energy conservation, the list is virtually endless these days, there's a good chance you can find like-minded individuals who are willing to connect online.

Social networking sites, the ones where you can search and reconnect with old friends scattered far and wide, are seemingly the new wave of staying in touch.

But remember, spending time close up and personal, such as having lunch together, taking a walk, meeting face to face, tends to yield more benefits that limiting your interactions to the electronic screen. And second, when moving from an internet-only relationship to meeting in person, please take precautions and observe safety rules.

Get a Dog: Having completed my doctoral dissertation in the area of the health value of pet ownership, I learned there are many benefits, including lowering blood pressure. Increasing social opportunities is another. For example, I worked with someone who met his girlfriend at a dog park.

Studies have shown that people walking a dog tend to be viewed as more approachable and friendly. It's similar to the baby stroller effect. People are drawn to babies and pets, especially dogs.

I cannot say for sure that walking an iguana, say, would have the same effect, but maybe.

by Matthew Eastmond

I mean, an iguana is a curiosity and there are those that think iguanas are the cat's meow. But there are others who would run in the opposite direction if they saw a small, horny-backed creature scurrying their way. So factor in the social likeability factor when choosing a pet to parade in public.

Puppies probably rate highest but that doesn't mean you should run out and buy a new puppy when you've already got a dog. The expense and effort of too many pets could backfire.

I recently finished a cute book, Must Love Dogs, where the heroine borrows her brother's dog to meet a man from the personal ads and he, too, shows up with a borrowed dog.

The book was made into a really funny movie of the same title, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack, if you'd rather watch it on your home screen. Laughter is the best medicine, right?

Better yet, watch it with a friend. The two-footed or four-footed variety.

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