Faire une promenade avec des lamas était le moyen anti-stress dont je ne savais pas avoir besoin

Faire une promenade avec des lamas était le moyen anti-stress dont je ne savais pas avoir besoin

UNEn tant que personne atteinte d’un trouble de stress post-traumatique complexe (SSPT) et d’anxiété, je ferai à peu près tout pour améliorer ma santé mentale. J’ai expérimenté différents types de psychothérapie, de méditation et d’exercices de respiration. J’ai écrit dans un journal de gratitude et fait des cures de désintoxication numériques.

Je pensais avoir tout essayé. Puis j’ai entendu parler de la marche des lamas.

Lorsque la plupart des gens pensent au soutien émotionnel ou aux animaux de thérapie, les chiens, les chats et les chevaux peuvent venir à l’esprit. Mais les lamas sont en réalité des animaux de thérapie idéaux. J’ai appris cela récemment lorsque je me suis inscrit à une promenade avec des lamas à l’historique Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa à Whitefield, dans le New Hampshire. Ma guide, Jessica Jones, m’a informé que les lamas sont excellents pour lire l’énergie, l’humeur et les émotions des gens. Et malgré les faux stéréotypes, ils sont connus pour avoir un tempérament doux et calme.

Those factors might help to explain why they’re being used for a wide variety of therapeutic purposes all around the world—from reducing stress and aggression to improving mood, learning, and empathy in people with dementia, among other populations. While there isn’t a ton of research just yet on the benefits of hanging out with llamas, one 2006 study revealed that children with autism who underwent llamas-assisted therapy showed greater use of language and improved social interactions compared to those who did standard occupational therapy.

After an extra stressful year, I was curious whether spending some quality time with a llama could really have mental health benefits for me. So, on an unseasonably warm morning in late October, I trekked down to the barn at Mountain View Grand for a stroll with Bourbon, one of the resident llamas who goes on leashed walks throughout the mountainside resort grounds from spring to fall. Here’s what I noticed during and after our walk together.

Photo: Rebecca Strong

Being with a llama gave me a surge of joy

Without fail, I always feel happier after spending time with animals—it’s one of the many reasons why I used to volunteer at a local rescue. Researchers believe that interacting with animals can boost your mood because it triggers the release of oxytocin and serotonin, so-called “feel-good hormones” that are associated with feelings of happiness, bonding, and pleasure. And my llama walk delivered exactly that: I felt a noticeable lift in mood not only during my walk with Bourbon, but also for the rest of the day.

Je suis devenu plus conscient de toute énergie anxieuse qui surgissait

Une étude de 2011 a révélé que la thérapie assistée par les animaux de ferme, en particulier, peut aider à réduire la dépression et l’anxiété chez les personnes atteintes de troubles psychiatriques diagnostiqués.

Tout en m’apprenant comment guider un lama, Jones a noté que la laisse est essentiellement un cordon émotionnel qui me relie à Bourbon. « Quoi que vous ressentiez, il commencera à le ressentir », a-t-elle expliqué.

Sachant cela, je suis devenu très conscient et en phase avec mes émotions. Je ne voulais absolument pas que Bourbon absorbe mon anxiété potentielle, alors je me suis fait un devoir de respirer profondément pendant que je marchais à ses côtés. Il ne s’agissait pas seulement de moi : je prenais aussi soin de lui, ce qui me rendait plus conscient de mon énergie.

I let my guard down

One of the symptoms of my complex PTSD is hypervigilance. This means I constantly feel like I’m on high alert and on the lookout for signs of any potential danger.

Llamas tend to serve as protectors for herds of smaller animals—and Jones told me that Bourbon, in particular, takes this role very seriously. In fact, he’s known as the unofficial “secret service” for the farm. (I got an inexplicable amount of glee picturing Bourbon with an earpiece, tie, and a pair of dark shades.)

Interestingly, as my walk with Bourbon went on and I became more comfortable holding the leash, I felt the tension in my body gradually ease up. My breathing steadied. It was as if I knew I could relax because my llama guardian was on the lookout for me.

The llama’s peaceful demeanor rubbed off on me

One of the most common misconceptions about llamas is that they’re disagreeable or even aggressive. In reality, it’s extremely rare for llamas to spit on people—they only resort to this mechanism if they’re provoked, and feel super threatened. Jones warned me that llamas don’t generally like to be touched. In fact, mothers don’t even engage in much physical contact with their young. Knowing this helped me to avoid crossing any boundaries and making Bourbon uncomfortable.

Of course, like all animals, llamas can vary in personality. For example, Jones told me that Bourbon is more serious, while one of the other farm’s llamas—Finnegan—has a more playful personality and loves posing for photos.

And it seemed to me that the emotional connection through the leash ran both ways. By the end of the stroll, it was as if I had absorbed Bourbon’s serene and focused energy. During conversations with my husband later that day, I noticed that I felt less reactive and more patient.

By the end of the stroll, it was as if I had absorbed Bourbon’s serene and focused energy.

It’s worth noting that I probably benefited not only from interacting with Bourbon, but also from spending time in nature. A 2019 review found that exposure to nature can increase happiness while decreasing mental distress. According to another 2019 study, even spending just 20 to 30 minutes in a natural environment can actually reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

I experienced a boost in confidence

Research has found that spending time with farm animals in nature can also increase self-esteem and self-efficacy.

For me, I think this benefit stemmed from the fact that I had to learn how to lead an animal I’d never interacted with before. Admittedly, I was nervous at first. I didn’t want to choke up too far on the leash and end up causing Bourbon any discomfort, but Jones also made it clear that giving too much slack would make it impossible to guide him in the right direction. I worried about keeping the perfect amount of distance—not so little that I impeded on his personal space, but not so much that I lost control. I tend to panic when dealing with unfamiliar situations, and self-doubt often creeps in when I have to play the role of leader.

But about 10 minutes into the walk, my confidence began to grow. Observing how Bourbon followed me around corners, down steps, and up hills reinforced that I’m fully capable of handling the situation. It also gave me a sense of accomplishment that I tried something new and nothing bad happened.

When Jones told my husband and me that Bourbon seemed more at ease around us than he usually did on these walks with guests, I felt an immense sense of pride. Maybe—just maybe—I wasn’t the only one who reaped some benefits from that Saturday morning stroll.


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