Integrative Equine Therapy and Mental Health Awareness: Tuning In and Building Resiliency

How are you doing? How is your family doing?

Yes, really? How are you all doing?

Before we launch into the holiday season it’s a good time to check in and take stock on our own wellbeing. 

Are you all doing, well? Just okay? Are you feeling fabulous?

We know how disruptive COVID-19 has been to our routines and lives; everyone’s lives have been changed, whether you spent two years working from home, or going to work every day for months while you were afraid, or not working at all, even though you needed to. 

Did you wish you could thrive but found yourself struggling with school?

So back to our question: How are you doing? 

Mental Health Awareness: Signs You Could Use a Hand (or Hoof)

What are some of the signs that you or your loved ones could use a hand? Or a hoof?

Researchers are starting to publish their findings on how COVID-19 has disrupted the emotional lives, disrupted our mental wellbeing, and disrupted our sense of what is safe in our world. In the US, medical practitioners declared a mental health crisis for children in 2022. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services coalition, SAMHSA reports that 8.8 million young people reported a mental health issue in 2018, of which more than 40% went untreated. 

How are people experiencing this disruption? 

Fear, anxiety, worry, and stress, as we know from our work at Beachwood, can manifest in so many different ways. Our age, our background, our support and community connection, and the length of the disruption can all play a role in how we feel. 

And how we feel varies greatly from person to person; neighbor, sister, friend, parent.

Researchers are also starting to take note of what helps. 

Being in nature helps. Connecting with animals, including our pets helps. 

Connecting with horses really helps people heal.

Researchers at Brown University and at Columbia University found that connecting with horses helps with everything from consistently showing up for therapy, creating and holding a safe space for therapy to unfold, and creating new neural pathways, as evidenced by functional MRI brain scans.  

As large prey animals, horses seem to be particularly well suited to sharing a sense of safety that can significantly help our overanxious systems slow down and with support, heal from anxiety, trauma, grief, social anxiety, depression, PTSD, and stress-related physical symptoms.

Mental Health Awareness: Anxiety Is Contagious

It can be really eye opening to realize that anxiety is contagious. It is designed to pass at the speed of energy between humans to warn us of danger. The hormones triggered—cortisol and adrenaline in particular—are supposed to help us STOP, CHANGE, MOVE AWAY.

When one of us is anxious, we all pick up on it. It’s how we’ve survived as a species!

What happens when you get bombarded with anxiety again and again? What happens when you feel that you can’t change and move away from the source of anxiety because you don’t even know where it’s coming from? Whether we feel it in our own environment, from the television, or experience it on line, the anxiety all around us is real.

When you are a teenager, branching out into friend groups in an age of social media, this is a real experience. The highs and lows of building connections in peer groups are magnified by the speed and connectivity that social media provides.

We can feel caught in a bind. On the one hand anxiety and the hormones that it causes are telling us to change something or move away,  on the other hand, we have a need to stay connected! Our very real need for our friends, our peers, and our families is hardwired into us.  

How do we communicate and experience safety, love, compassion, and support, rather than anxiety, and fear?

Mental Health Awareness: Shifting to Healthy Thriving 

It’s likely that your teenager experienced COVID-19 as a series of lockdowns, changing schools, graduating, and going to college all while social distancing? Developmentally, we know that the teenage years are all about shifting our most important connections from dependence on our families to connection outside the family, to friend groups. 

A parent experiences this natural shift as one morning their teenager wants to be hugged or held and to giggle about childhood things; the next morning, there are eyerolls, huffs and puffs, silence, or withdrawal.  What happens when that normal awkward, hormonal, emotional, and developmental shift leaves your young adult stuck?

Are they doing okay? Could they use a hand? How can we help them thrive, not just survive the changes? 

What signs should you look for to determine if there’s something really wrong or if what you’re seeing is developmentally appropriate behavior?  If you are worried about your young adult, it’s always good to trust your gut.    In addition to more obvious issues of concern such as feelings of anxiousness and hopelessness, SAMSHA’s studies suggests paying careful attention to:

  • Trouble sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in overall energy levels
  • Difficulty in daily functioning
  • Loss of interest in hobbies + friends
  • Changes in appetite + weight
  • Extreme mood changes

When you feel worry about yourself or a loved one, you know that the most important step is to reach out to someone you trust for help.  Asking for help can be difficult.  Often we feel like we should be able to do it ourselves.  

When it comes to neural pathways, the more often we use them, the deeper or more entrenched the behavior.  You can imagine if that behavior is coming from fear, and it’s triggered frequently, the sooner we get help, the better.  

If you’re to sure where to turn for help, please know that we are here.  Support that harnesses the healing power of horses can be found here: Beachwood Integrative Equine Therapy’s videos on how horses help. Beachwood’s YouTube channel also has more information and you can see the horses helping clients.

Mental Health Awareness: Resiliency Takes Practice and Support

Resiliency is all about how we learn to navigating these choppy waters of maintaining connection. We have to learn what to move away from, and how to move toward.  We have to learn when the anxiousness is our own, and when it’s someone or something else.   We have to learn to manage setbacks, and build reliable trust, so we have more resources when new anxieties arise.  

Small wonder – Resiliency is the work of a lifetime

It’s no surprise that our young adults, still swimming in hormones, uncharted relationships, new experiences, and the extreme environment of anxiety created by social media are struggling. 

It’s also no surprise that even as adults , we all need support to navigate experiences of anxiety, trauma, stress, grief, depression, and PTSD.

Beachwood has been a support to so many; prior to, and during the pandemic.  

That’s why there’s so much data on the success of Integrative Equine Therapy.  

Some clients come for 7 session (5 day) intensives that can feel like a mini-retreat.   Others come for individual 90-minute integrative equine therapy sessions spaced out over a few months.  Clients also join us for  3 sessions over 2 days to help them tune in  to uncover and process something they’re experiencing.  

We look forward to helping! Contact Beachwood Integrative Equine Therapy to discuss which option could be best suited for your needs.

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