What’s Your Story?

The current state of your life is a result of the stories you tell yourself, about yourself. For example, if you have a story of not being good enough, this narrative will likely play out in aspects of your life – your job, relationships and social life. To change your life, you need to change the limiting beliefs you have about yourself.

Think for a moment of your self limiting beliefs. Many of these beliefs start with “I’m not . . . ”; “I can’t . . . ”; or “I’ll never . . . ” Our thoughts seem to repeat over and over, and the more they repeat, the more believable they seem. They can follow themes for short periods, years or even a lifetime. You may seek confirmation for these beliefs and dismiss events that don’t confirm your belief.

There are schools of therapy and mindfulness practices dedicated to the eradication of negative self talk. For example, Narrative Therapy is a process of ‘re-storying’ your beliefs in more productive ways. The premise is that human beings are constantly interpreting things to make meaning of our experiences. The stories we have about our lives are created through linking certain events in a particular sequence across a time period, and finding a way to make sense of them. This meaning forms the plot of our story. Therapy helps the client create a new narrative about themselves.

According to the Dulwich Center, a clinical practice that specializes in Narrative Therapy in Australia, we all have many stories about our lives and relationships, occurring simultaneously. For example, we have stories about ourselves, our abilities, our struggles, our competencies, our actions, our desires, our relationships, our work, our interests, our conquests, our achievements, our failures. The way we have developed these stories is determined by how we have linked certain events together in a sequence and by the meaning we have attributed to them. Narrative therapy theory suggests that there is no “objective reality” or absolute truth. What is true for us may not be true for another person, or even for ourselves at another point in time.

Thoughts are not facts. They are simply electrochemical impulses in our brain. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) recommends that you not believe everything you think. It is not the event which causes our emotional distress and behavioral reactions, but the meaning we give that event that results in particular emotions and behaviors.

Elisha Goldstein, author of Uncovering Happiness, recommends that we put some space between our reactions and our thoughts. Watch your thoughts come and go instead of treating them as facts. If you’re stuck on a negative thought, ask yourself – Is it true? Is it absolutely true? How does this thought make me feel? What would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief? Examining thoughts in this way creates space for a new story to develop.

Want to test out the idea that thoughts are not facts?
• Pick a thought that feels factual to you (e.g., ’I am not very good at my job’ or ‘I’m a great friend’)
• Rate the thought on a scale of 1-10 based on how factual the thought seems (1 = absolutely false, 10 = absolutely true)
• Write down the thought and its rating. Put it in your pocket.
• Rate that same thought again tomorrow and over the course of several days (especially apply attention to it after you experience incidents related to it)
You will likely notice that how factual the thought seems will fluctuate moment to moment, day to day. It becomes apparent with practice that what we see as factual in the thoughts we have is not always trustworthy.

In summary, thoughts are not facts. You are not your negative thoughts. There is more to you than your self limiting story. Believe that it’s only a story and create a new narrative.

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Are You in Need of Redemption?

We are all fallible human beings. Humans display equal capacity for good and evil. I believe that most of us have exhibited thoughtless or purposeful acts of harm to another. As a mental health and substance abuse counselor, I have met many people who live with guilt, regret, and a fixed perception of themselves as deeply flawed in some way. They cannot forgive themselves and believe that they are not redeemable. Perhaps they can stop a painful loop of self-recrimination by learning from fiction writers.

Have you heard of a “redemption arc?” It refers to the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a plot in a fiction story, film or book. The character begins as one type of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story. Since the change is often dramatic and leads from one personality trait to it’s opposite trait, the term arc is used to describe the sweeping change. An example might be someone who changes from being a pleasure seeking hedonist to someone who finds meaning and satisfaction in helping others. Another example, from film, is Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. His character begins as a misogynistic chauvinist who changes his view of women after playing the part of a woman. He becomes a different, more likeable character.

There are actually formulas for developing these plots. In the first act the character faces an incident which serves as a turning point or call to action. In the second act, the arc develops as the character learns new skills, new capabilities and the raising of self-awareness. In the third act, the character gains a new sense of whom they are becoming. The emphasis shifts from the learning of new skills or the discovery of dormant capabilities to the awakening of a higher level of self awareness, which then becomes a new character trait.

The villain is not easily or quickly forgiven for all the wrong they’ve done. They have to undergo notable character growth before being forgiven. Redemption isn’t a change from evil to good but is instead a change of heart followed by daily efforts to do good. It is a hard path and takes time and effort to form into a new character trait.

Alex Lickerman, MD, wrote an article on redemption in psychology.com, January 16, 2011. He states “The path to redemption is difficult but not impossible to follow. We must fully recognize that we’ve done wrong; fully accept responsibility for having done it; determine never to do it again; apologize to those we’ve done it to (if appropriate); and resolve to aim at improving ourselves in the general direction of good. To dwell unduly on the past negates the idea that we can change and improve ourselves in the future. We can’t escape the effects of our past causes, of course, but we can aim to be transformed by them in a way that strengthens the good in us.”

Your past wrongs can be redeemed.

Replace Your New Year’s Resolution with a Vision of Purpose

Have you set your New Year’s resolution yet? The tradition of New Year’s resolutions dates all the way back to 153 B.C. January is named after Janus, a mythical god of early Rome. Janus had two faces — one looking forward, one looking backward. This allowed him to look back on the past and forward toward the future. On December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking backward into the old year and forward into the new year. This became a symbolic time for Romans to make resolutions for the new year and forgive enemies for troubles in the past. The Romans also believed Janus could forgive them for their wrongdoings in the previous year. The Romans would give gifts and make promises, believing Janus would see this and bless them in the year ahead. And thus the New Year’s resolution was born!

The beginning of the year is a great time to get focused on what want from the year ahead. The most common resolutions are losing weight, doing more exercise, quitting smoking and saving money. Sadly, most resolutions fail within the first few weeks of the new year. Research has shown that half of all adults make a New Year’s resolution. However, fewer than 10% keep them for more than a few months. In fact, one study showed that 50% of people who make a resolution, abandon it before even starting.

Resolutions are not as powerful as goals because they lack accountability and measurement that move you toward a desirable outcome. SMART goals may get you further. In order to achieve a SMART goal, you should make the resolution Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Limited. Psychologically, we tend to move toward a goal once the goal has been set.

Resolutions tend to focus on what you want. Goals tend to be something to accomplish. But why stop with either a resolution or a goal? How about being vision-focused? According to authors Brett & Kate Mckay (Visions Over Goals, artofmanliness.com), a vision is a broad idea of living your fullest ideals. Having goals or a vision isn’t an either/or proposition. You should have both. However, goals lack deeper meaning and a vision provides purpose and significance. If we want to live a flourishing life, we need to become vision-focused and put our goals into the context of that vision. They warn that we don’t confuse the tool for the blueprint.

Visioning is a tool for life direction whether it is personal or professional. Kate Miller, counselor, holistic coach and colleague says “Vision is about the ‘Why’ not the ‘What.  Through visioning we can set an intention and as we keep our attention on it, it provides direction.” I attended her visioning workshop last January and found it tremendously helpful. In that workshop I was able to contemplate my highest values and examine whether my behavior is in alignment with those values. Unlike resolutions and goals, visioning is not necessarily about obtaining anything. It’s about a shift of consciousness in your ‘being’. Visioning is a guided process utilizing a series of questions to reveal a higher ideal for one’s life. It also uncovers blind spots to surrender and gifts to celebrate.

I recommend that you attend Kate Miller’s “Vision for 2019 Workshop” on Sunday, Jan 13th at Prairie Ridge of Galena from 1:30-4:30 pm. Register online at www.eventbrite.com

It’s Tax Time – Are You a Cheater?

I have a friend whom I perceive as a highly ethical person of good character. I was surprised to hear him casually say that he does not report all of his income on his taxes. It made me wonder how someone can strive to uphold their moral standards in some areas but not in others. Why do people willfully and flagrantly violate our tax laws?

It turns out that 30 to 40 percent of Americans won’t pay all of the taxes they owe. Aside from honest mistakes due to the complexity of tax laws, there are also intentional evasion, nonpayment, and underpayment.

Lots of people think it’s not morally wrong to cheat because they are suspicious of taxation and believe taxation itself is wrongful. Or, that tax revenues are being used for unwise purposes. Or, they think “everyone is doing it.” Therefore, it’s okay for them to do the same.

Rich people are the biggest offenders. They are far more likely to cheat on their taxes than poor or middle class people, according to social scientists Alstadsaeter, Johannesen and Zucman. The richer you are, the more likely you are to cheat big time on your taxes. The ability and probability to hide assets rise sharply with wealth. These scientists estimate that the top 1% hide 25% or more of its wealth from tax collectors in offshore holdings. They have the resources of tax evasion services by specialized banks and firms of lawyers. Cheating is easy to justify when you cast yourself as a victim to this kind of unfairness such as you think you are leveling the playing field, not cheating or restoring fairness.

Most people would agree that cheating is morally wrong, including cheating on taxes. One study by Lisa Shu, researcher, demonstrated that when people think they can get away with cheating, and they also think it would be worthwhile to cheat, they are often motivated to do so.

But here’s the rub. People want to consider themselves to be honest. Other research building on Shu’s study found that when people are reminded of the importance of being honest, they alter their behavior not to cheat. For example, participants in one study were first asked to recall as many of the Ten Commandments as they could before they took a test. Another study asked college students to sign their school’s honor code before a test. They were reminded of the ideals of being honest. It was also found that changing the wording from “Please don’t cheat” to “Please don’t be a cheater” changed behavior. The switch to “cheater” called to mind how the participants wanted to think of themselves as honest. Another study stopped participants from cheating simply by having them sit in front of a mirror. When given a moral reminder, it is hard from most people to cheat. People don’t cheat as much as they can get away with; rather they cheat up to the point at which they can continue to believe they are good people.

We shouldn’t cheat on our taxes, not because we necessarily care about the IRS, but because we care about being people of honesty and integrity.

Please Consider Donations to People Who Suffer from Addiction

Alcoholism and drug addiction is a progressive disease that can ultimately destroy a person’s life including their finances, their career, their family and if untreated will lead to death. While there may be some aspect of choice in taking the first drink or doing the first drug, alcoholism and addiction are considered diseases in the medical community, because of how your brain reacts to these substances and the progressive, chronic nature of addiction.

Is Addiction a Disability? Although drug addiction sometimes impairs a person’s ability to work, disability benefits will not be approved on the basis of addiction alone. Even though the effects of substance abuse may prevent the addicted individual from maintaining employment, Social Security does not consider it to be disabling until it causes irreversible medical conditions. This does not mean that you cannot win approval for a physical or mental condition that was caused by a drug addiction. As of 2018, there is not a listing for addiction, but you can still qualify for disability benefits by meeting the criteria of any of the listings for impairments caused by substance abuse: brain damage, liver damage, gastritis, pancreatitis, peripheral neuropathy, seizures, depression, anxiety disorder, or personality disorder. If the SSA determines that your illness would go away if you stopped abusing drugs, the SSA will deny your claim.

Although Social Security does not grant disability benefits based upon addiction alone, there is good cause for charitable organizations to fund people who suffer from the disease of addiction or to addiction treatment programs. Generally speaking, behavioral healthcare which includes both mental illness and addiction, is under funded. Overwhelmingly, Americans hold more negative attitudes toward people who suffer with drug addiction than toward people with mental illness. Negative attitudes translate into lower support for treatment and fair policies for this segment of the population.

According to Norman Sartorius, psychiatrist and professor, behavioral disorders probably carry more stigmas (and consequent discrimination) than any other illness. The stigma does not stop at the persons who are suffering from a stigmatized illness. Their immediate and even remote families often experience significant social disadvantages. The institutions that provide mental health care are stigmatized. Stigma reduces the value of the persons who have a mental disorder in the eyes of the community and the government. Medications that are needed in the treatment of mental disorders, for example, are considered expensive even when their cost is much lower than the cost of drugs used in the treatment of other illnesses.

Not all persons who suffer from the disease of addiction are disabled. Many high functioning drug-addicted people contribute to society in meaningful ways. In order to make a determination of which individual addicted person is most suitable for charitable giving, I recommend the use of an ASAM assessment and the use of RANT to determine risk and need level of a person who suffers from addiction.

ASAM, American Society of Addiction Medicine, defines a set of criteria for treatment placement, length of stay and transfer/discharge of patients with addiction and co-occurring conditions. Utilizing ASAM, clinicians are able to conduct a multidimensional assessment that explores individual risks and needs, as well as strengths, skills and resources. It matches impairment with intensity of needed treatment services.

RANT, the Risk and Needs Triage, is a tool utilized in criminal justice to determine which types of drug offenders are best suited for which types of programs. It classifies offenders into one of four risk/needs quadrants. RANT measures such things as age of onset of criminal activity or substance use (early onset of substance abuse indicates more brain damage and predicts higher levels of life impairment); prior failure in substance abuse rehabilitation; unstable living arrangements; unemployment; and chronic medical and mental health conditions. These conditions are indications of addiction disease symptoms. High risk, high need persons are especially suited for financial assistance.

People in recovery from addiction often need a helping hand to get back on their feet. Denying or limiting funding at critical junctures of an addict’s life can lead to relapse or death. Given the current opioid overdose death epidemic, more funding opportunities are needed. As you consider year end charitable giving, please be the helping hand.

Can You Be Overly Empathic?

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing. It is placing oneself in another’s position. This is a desirable trait in that it causes people to help others in need. It improves relationships. It can reduce feelings of bigotry, racism, sexism, and all other types of intolerance. Positive empathy improves health. But is there a down side?

Individuals differ in their ability to feel empathy. Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen describes an empathy scale from zero (having no empathy at all) to six (an unstoppable state of empathy for others). Empathy comes at a cost to people at the high end of the spectrum. They are more prone to suffer depression and anxiety. Compassionate helping is good for you and for others. But taken too far, it can be destructive.

I know of a woman who is generous, thoughtful and kind. She has strong empathy skills, particularly toward children and animals. She is attuned to pain and discomfort to a degree that is often debilitating. If she sees an injured animal, she is likely to have a panic attack. Her empathy often causes emotional fatigue and tearfulness. This high sensitivity to others causes her to restrict her viewing of TV shows and movies that may have disturbing content. In short, it negatively impacts her quality of life.

Females tend to be more empathic than males. Women are better at recognizing facial effects and emotions in general. Research suggests that empathy is also partly genetically determined. Empathy is also correlated with high levels of oxytocin, a chemical in your body that acts as a neurotransmitter, or messenger between brain cells. A study by Paul Zak, neuroeconomist, demonstrated that people are more generous and more trusting when given doses of oxytocin.

Is empathy learned? Yes. One study found that parenting style contributes to the development of empathy. Parents who encourage the child to imagine the perspectives of others and teaching the child to reflect on their own feelings develops empathy.

Can you lose the ability to be empathic? Empathy can be disrupted due to trauma in the brain such as a stroke. For example, empathy is often impaired if a lesion or stroke occurs on the right side of the brain. And damage to the frontal lobe, which is responsible for emotional regulation, can impact a person’s capacity to experience empathy toward another person.

How empathic are you? Baron-Cohen developed a 60-item questionnaire, called the Empathy Quotient (EQ) designed to measure empathy in adults. You can take the questionnaire at https://psychology-tools.com/empathy-quotient.

As in most things in life, balance is key. If you find that you are empathic to your own detriment, you may benefit from counseling techniques designed to keep you grounded and focus on your own emotion regulation.

What Comes First – the Disease of Addiction or Addictive Behaviors?

Here’s a chicken or egg question. Which comes first? Does the disease of addiction lead to habitual behaviors (such as drug use), or do habitual behaviors (like drug use) cause addiction?

Addiction is largely genetic, according to author Howard Wetsman of Questions and Answers On Addiction. He says that “something on the order of 70% of the variance of who becomes an addict is explained by their genetic makeup.” A family history of addiction may predispose you to habitual behavior. In a sense, it creates a brain condition in which you feel better when using a substance. The biology of addiction is in the brain, not the body, although the symptoms are expressed in the body.

In what way is addiction a brain disease? The brain functions differently in people with an addiction.
• There are many ways that the brain is affected, but dopamine is a primary factor. Dopamine creates the feeling of pleasure. Drugs take control of this system, causing large amounts of dopamine to flood the system. This flood of dopamine is what causes the “high” with drug use. With repeated drug use, the brain starts to adjust to the surges of dopamine. Neurons may begin to reduce the number of dopamine receptors or simply make less dopamine. Because some drugs are toxic, some neurons may also die. As a result, the ability to feel any pleasure is reduced. Now the person needs drugs just to bring dopamine levels up to normal.
• With drug use, the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered, and teaches us to do it again and again, without thinking about it.
• Addiction increases the brain’s reaction to stress. Brain circuits become overactive, making people feel very stressed when they aren’t using drugs causing “cravings.”
• Additionally, addiction weakens the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex powers the ability to think, plan, solve problems, make decisions, and exert self-control over impulses. This is also the last part of the brain to mature, making teens most vulnerable.

Wetsman would say the remaining 30% of people who become addicted to a substance do so through repetitious drug use. They may not be genetically predisposed but enjoy recreational drug use that spiraled out of control. Or others may have become dependent on a substance unwittingly as through a medical prescription.

If it is true that addiction is a disease and predates habitual behavior, it would explain why some people would describe themselves as having an “addictive personality.” They have a tendency toward habitual behaviors that may be expressed through alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex, etc. The disease of addiction also explains why many people switch their preferred addiction after recovery. Hypothetically, some people may stop cocaine use and start gambling. Recovery is not simply the absence of drugs or alcohol. Ceasing the substance is only the beginning, or they may fall prey to switching the addiction.

So, in your experience of people with addictions, which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Age Is More Fluent Than You’d Think

We are often defined in terms of a magic number. We often ask children their ages. Dating sites are based upon ages. Age is often published immediately after a name in a newspaper obituary and in coverage of criminal charges.

You can legally change your name. You can change your gender. But you can’t change your age. Or, can you? Emile Ratelband, a Dutchman has asked a court in the Netherlands to legally change his age from 69 to 49, saying he wants to avoid age discrimination. Ratelband says his age is unfairly holding him back, but he doesn’t want to lie about it. For example, when he asks for a mortgage, he is denied. If he goes on a dating site, he doesn’t get responses. “With this freedom of choice, choice of name, free-ness of gender, I want to have my own age. I want to control myself,” he said. Having his age legally changed would offer him inspiration and hope, he said. He would give up his monthly pension if his request is granted. A court is expected to issue a ruling in about four weeks.

Age is not a good indication of who we are and it should not define our self-image. There are mature children, and immature adults. There are people who appear 70 who are in fact 50, and vice versa. There are mixed aged couples who are very compatible.

How we age is largely beyond our control but is primarily influenced by genetics. Interestingly, one study found that certain parts of the body age faster than others. For example, breast tissue is some of the oldest tissue in the body. Even healthy breast tissue can be as much as three years older than the rest of a woman’s body.

Chronological age refers to the actual amount of time a person has been alive. It does not change, regardless of their health, exercise and nutrition. Everyone ages at a different rate. Some people age rapidly, while others age more gradually.

Biological age, on the other hand, is also referred to as physiological age and does consider lifestyle, diet, exercise and sleeping habits. Your functional biological age is the age of your body’s systems. This takes into account one’s blood pressure, respiratory capacity, aerobic power and blood glucose levels.

Your psychological age can be broken down into cognitive functioning (your ability to learn and remember) and emotional functioning (your ability to handle and manage your feelings). As we age, we tend to have difficulty with some aspects of memory. Yet, we cope better with emotions as we age.

Social age reflects a continuum on major life markers such as when we graduate from high school and enter the workforce (approximate age 18), start a family (approximately 20s to 30s), or retire (approximately age 65). We make assumptions of people’s age based on these social markers. However, your social age may be much younger or older than the norm. You can become a first time parent in your 40s or 50s. You can retire early at age 25, such as having had a lucrative sports career.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne suggests you ask yourself a simple question: How old do you feel? “Forget what the calendar says, and even forget what your functional ages are. The age you feel may very well be the most important factor determining your health, happiness, and longevity.” Whitbourne consistently found that the people who are the happiest and best adjusted in their middle and later years are the ones who don’t focus on their limitations, worry about their memories, or become preoccupied with whether others view them as old.

How old do you feel?

How Much Do You Like to Help Others?

Altruism is the unselfish concern for other people; doing things simply out of a desire to help, not because you feel obligated to do so out of duty, loyalty, or religious reasons. Pure altruism involves true selflessness.

We don’t often think of animals as altruistic. However, there are many incidences of animals engaged in helpful behavior to others. For example, we adopted a puppy who immediately bonded with our middle-aged Labrador Retriever. They each enjoyed a nightly raw hide bone. However, the raw hide was too tough for the puppy, so the Lab would chew it until soft and then they would trade bones. This developed into a nightly ritual in which they would chew their bones, the puppy would release his bone and bark, and they would then switch. The Lab was truly altruistic. He got nothing in return for softening the other’s bone. However, years later when the Lab lost his hearing from old age, the younger dog would alert him to sounds by touching his nose.

According to Kendra Cherry, MS, author of The Everything Psychology Book, there are a number of theories for why altruism exists. There are biological reasons in which altruism toward blood relatives increase the odds of gene transmission to future generations. There are neurological reasons in that altruism activates pleasurable reward centers in the brain. There are social expectations or norms that influence kind behavior. For example, we feel pressured to help others if they have already done something for us according to the norm of reciprocity. Researchers suggest that people are more likely to engage in altruistic behavior when they feel empathy for a person who is in distress. And helping relieves negative feelings. Seeing another person in trouble causes us to feel distressed, so helping them reduces our own negative feelings. Most often people behave altruistically for selfish or hidden reasons. But sometimes people exhibit altruism even when it does not benefit them.

Some people step up to help others at the risk of their own peril. Why would some people risk their own lives to save a complete stranger? For example, more than 100,000 people in the US today are waiting for a kidney transplant. About 200 extraordinary altruists unconditionally donate their kidneys to people whom they don’t know and will never meet. What’s different about these people?

There is research to suggest that brain function and structure play a part in these actions. Professor Abigail Marsh of Georgetown University has studied altruism. She conducted research on 19 people who donated a kidney to strangers. They performed psych testing, brain imaging, gathered background information, but none of these indicated a difference from the control group of people who had not donated a kidney. One difference however, was found in a part of our brains called the amygdala, which is called the emotional center of the brain. They found that the amygdala was significantly larger in altruists compared to those who’d never donated an organ. The amygdala in altruists is supersensitive to fear or distress in another’s face.

Think of altruism on a spectrum with psychopathy. Psychopaths comprise 2% of the population and are primarily motivated by self interest. They have traits of callousness, manipulativeness and a lack of guilt or remorse. Psychopaths have smaller, less active amygdalas. The brain’s emotional radar in psychopaths was blunted and unresponsive to others’ distress or fear.

If such small percentages of people are either psychopaths or pure altruists, most of us are in the middle. Where do you think you fall on the spectrum between pure altruism and psychopathy? Although you can’t change the size of your amygdala, if you value altruism you can purposefully practice acts of kindness. The world will be better because of it.

Don’t Take a Squirrel on an Airplane

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Earlier this month a squirrel was denied a flight from Orlando to Cleveland. The owner boarded the airplane with the squirrel in its cage after declaring an emotional support animal on her reservation. The squirrel cleared the x-ray machine. Her mistake was that she hadn’t informed them that her emotional support animal was a squirrel. Once onboard, she was told that squirrels are rodents and are not welcome by Frontier Airlines. The owner refused to get off the plane and everyone was deplaned while police entered. The owner then got off and no further action was necessary. The other passengers made their displeasure known after a two-hour delay. Problems with animals on board have caused many airlines to tighten regulations.

As a psychotherapist, I am called upon to soothe emotions and decrease anxiety. Sometimes a pet can perform the same function. I’ve recently had two people ask me to write a letter stating that their dogs are emotional support animals. More and more emotional support animals are boarding planes. Pigs, peacocks, miniature horses, kangaroos, possums, parrots, ducks, turkeys, lizards, and turtles are boarding planes in addition to cats and dogs. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. Individual airlines have policies that bar some of these creatures from boarding.

Emotional support animals are companion pets who provide benefit for an individual with a psychological disorder. They differ from service animals, who provide an actual service such as guiding someone who is blind. To fly with an emotional support animal, a passenger needs a letter from a doctor or mental health professional describing the emotional benefit the animal provides for their particular disability.

Our pets become friends and family members. It is with great reluctance that people relocate to a home that won’t allow their fuzzy friend. The Fair Housing Act allows reasonable accommodations be made for people with disabilities. Some people misrepresent themselves as having a disability that only their pet can improve. This behavior makes it more difficult for people with verifiable disabilities to get the accommodations they need.

We all love our pets and find comfort in their presence. In fact, the act of petting can lower blood pressure, help your body release a relaxation hormone, and cut down levels of a stress hormone. Walking a dog is good for the heart. Pets can help you connect with other people. It is easier to strike up a conversation when with a pet. People with pets are generally happier than those without.

I highly recommend that everyone get a pet. Your life will be greatly rewarded. But please follow housing and airline regulations for the comfort of all.