“In life, it’s not where you go – it’s who you travel with.”
Charles M. Schultz
Charles M. Schultz, the creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy understood it. That mutually beneficial bond you may have had with an animal when you were a kid. In many ways, you may have sensed that your pet helped you through some of the tough stuff growing up.
Maybe now you have that extra special connection with cats. Perhaps when you meet the eye of another person walking their dog you just know that they know too about the unspoken benefits? Many of us have already known this for millennia, but having a pet is actually very good for your mental health.
Over the past few decades, there have been a number of studies suggesting that pets have a positive effect on people’s mental health. These days, the positive effects of pets are being promoted and acknowledged by many. You’ll find healthcare providers recommending animal therapy and considering a pet. There are also workplaces with wellness programs that include pet policies to help their employees at work.
The bond and activities we share with the animals in our lives with contributing to having both a healthy mind and a healthy body. Here are some of the reasons a pet in your life is good for mental health:
There is research backing it up.
Studies on the interactions between people and animals aren’t new. What is more recent is the interest in understanding the effects both people and animals can have on each other’s health. Qualitative research by university academics, veterinary institutions, and other organizations around the world are coming up with similar conclusions. While having a pet may not be for everyone, there are many benefits under discussion.
- Pets provide unconditional love and companionship
Relationships with other people can, at times, be challenging and tough, there’s no doubt about it. Your relationship with your pet is usually one of complete acceptance. They don’t care what you look like, or pass any of the judgments or stigma associated with mental health. So long as you look after them well, it’s all about nothing but love and affection.
- Pets may help lower depression, stress, and anxiety.
Many factors influence depression, stress, and anxiety. These can include physical, social, psychological, genetic, and environmental elements. Hormones, blood pressure and neurotransmitters all play a part. Pet ownership has been found to help reduce blood pressure. It also affects levels of serotonin and oxytocin, all of which can affect your mental wellbeing.
How does this happen?
Physically, this happens from both their presence and through our interactions when we touch and exercise with our pets. Socially, pets can be a form of social support when you know they will be there waiting at the end of the day. As stress relievers, not only can our pets make us smile and laugh, the distraction of a pet can help bring feelings of calm.
- Pets can help with a healthy focus and purpose.
Whether you live alone or in a shared house, there are times when it is healthy to take the focus away from yourself or others and onto something else. If you have a pet, there are times when this animal will need your undivided care and attention. This is a win-win for all parties.
- Pets can help with the need to be needed.
Many types of mental health issues can be triggered by feelings of rejection and isolation from others. In other words, that you are not needed or useful. The knowing that a pet depends on you, is there beside you every day and doesn’t judge you can be helpful in building self-esteem and confidence in oneself.
- Pets help with establishing daily routines.
When you’re struggling with feeling like you’re mentally on top of things, life can be up and down. It can range from seeming like it’s increasingly chaotic and unorganized to somehow lacking in purpose or direction.
Looking after a pet involves having some structure and routine in your life, no matter what type of animal. They need feeding at certain times, have their own health checks, and daily exercise needs.
- Pets can help connect with other people.
The shared culture of pet “ownership” in itself can help with connecting to other people. There is a sense of being alike, even without belonging to a formal club. An interest in animals or a particular type of breed can also lead to joining associations. In person and online, people often connect with groups dedicated to animal welfare or particular breeds.
Then, of course, for people with dogs, it’s hard not to interact with other people while you are getting in their regular exercise.
- Animals can also give assistance in different types of roles.
To going one step further, many people have animals or pets incorporated into their daily lives to help them manage, recover from, or overcome an illness or disability. These ‘working’ animals help with both physical and mental impairments and usually fall into one of three categories.
Service animals are trained to help people directly with tasks that an illness or disability prevents them from doing on their own. These can be both physical and mental. Most people are familiar with guide dogs helping the visually impaired. However, service dogs can also be trained as psychiatric service animals to help someone stay safe.
Therapy animals usually work in group settings with their handler. They may go to hospitals and care facilities to provide support to residents. Some airport terminals have access to a therapy dog and handler to help anyone with a fear of flying to board planes. Health professionals in the rehabilitation field often “prescribe” Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) to help with the recovery of both physical and mental trauma.
People who qualify for emotional support animals have an emotional or psychological illness with symptoms that may be helped by their animal. A licensed medical professional will have evaluated the person, and approved an emotional support animal as part of a wider treatment plan (here is how to ask doctor for emotional support animal). The intention of an emotional support animal is to provide the comfort and companionship known to help with someone’s mental health.
-Guest Author: CetraPet