How Pets Brighten Thanksgivukkah (& Every Other Day Of The Year!)


Dealing With Anxiety: How Pets Brighten Thanksgivukkah
Need to vent? Take a walk with this little buddy. Photo: skirtpr, Flickr.
Pets are a wonderful support during the holidays. Go ahead, schedule some cuddle time!

The holiday season is upon us, kicking off with Thanksgivukkah, the combo name created in honor of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah, both celebrated on the same date this year, November 28th. The internet is happy to provide us with more than enough information on food dishes (noodle kugel stuffing, anyone?), activities and memorabilia designed just for this once-in-a-lifetime event (the first since 1888), adding even more pressure to a time of year when expectations and stressors are already increased. Preparations for special meals and the search for the perfect Hanukkah Gifts begins long before Thanksgivukkah arrives, and the 8 days of Hanukkah can be taxing for families who do not get along well together. All of these elements combined can make the holidays dreaded and unpleasant, instead of filled with peace and happiness. 

If you find yourself wishing the Thanksgivukkah and seven celebration days that follow are already over, here's some coping advice you might not have thought of: let the family pet come to your rescue. The mere presence of your beloved animal in the room can ease tensions, encourage conversation, and strengthen bonds. The research-proven benefits that our pets provide to our mental and physical health are many, including improving our blood pressure and boosting our moods.

Being around animals is comforting and helps with feelings of isolation and depression. Interacting with a gentle, friendly pet increases the "feel good" hormones in our body that relieve physical pain and anxiety, having a calming effect. What's more? The act of petting an animal produces an automatic relaxation response that can actually reduce the amount of medication a person needs to take. Animals help us become more empathetic, which can help us learn patience and increase our tolerance of others. People can be so judgmental, but animal companions let you be yourself.

Research has proven that loving our pets and loving our human partners may be more closely connected than we thought. The latest scientific findings confirm that after only 10 minutes of a friendly human-dog interaction, levels of that feel-good hormone, oxytocin, are increased in both the person and the animal. This correlates with other study results on oxytocin, showing that high levels in the body strengthen maternal bonds and other social attachments, along with an increased sense of calm. Thinking of your pet as your best friend or baby isn't crazy, after all! 

Animals are so good for our mental and physical health, their goodness isn't just reserved for family anymore. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is commonplace now, and used in all types of therapeutic environments. Therapy animals may simply help put clients at ease with their presence, or play a role in more formal settings involving goal-directed counseling and treatment plans.

So if you're fortunate enough to have animal company for Thanksgivukkah and the special days that follow, let their presence help you stay centered and healthy. Taking the family dog for a brisk walk around the neighborhood may be the perfect cure for too much food (and too much family time). The exercise break will serve as important self-care: aiding digestion, clearing away mental fog, providing a chance to be alone with your thoughts, or perhaps time to take a step back from a troubling or tense situation. Your four-legged walking buddy probably won't even mind if you need to "talk it out." Using your pet as a sounding board is often wiser than saying things you might later regret, if told to a human. No worries about the trustworthiness of your confidant, either! 

Our beloved animal friends can also be great providers of comic relief, often in short supply during the holidays, when the stress of too much family togetherness begins to take its toll. Without even trying, their innocent antics are sure to amuse even the biggest grump in the room. For more family fun, be sure and include family pets on your Hanukkah Gifts list.

If you're short on ideas, once again, many creative gift suggestions are just a click away, readily available when shopping the internet. How about a Hanukkah menorah, dreidel or blue snowflakes, for your brother's dog? Or perhaps some blue mice with feathered tails, dreidel catnip toys, or blue polka-dot balls for Grandmother's cat? Blue snowflake knit hats or sweaters are also useful winter gifts for pets, perfect for that personal-time outdoor walk mentioned above. Including these special family members in your Hanukkah Gifts exchange will brighten everyone's day, provide a good chuckle and add to shared feel-good holiday memories.  

Since the beginning of time, humans and animals have shared a powerful bond, and including our pets in our holiday traditions reminds us of the vital roles that animals can play in every aspect of our lives. This animal-human connection is a proven source of well-being and relief for those suffering from physical and emotional pain. While our holiday season is promoted as being a time of peace and happiness, it often falls far short for many people, who are left feeling quite the opposite. Our pets can help us stay centered and heartfelt during the holiday season ahead.

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Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Stuart Fensterheim

Marriage and Family Therapist

Stuart Fensterheim LCSW

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Location: Scottsdale, AZ
Credentials: LCSW
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