Pets Can Be Good For Your Mental Health. Here’s How.
Taking care of a pet can be a big responsibility. Aside from the cost ー from vet bills and food to special equipment ー the actual feeding, walking, general looking-after, or even playtime needed to care for an animal can take up a lot of time. Yet doing so can bring about a lot of benefits. From easing loneliness to providing a balm for anxiety and depression, animals can have a positive effect on your mental health. Let’s take a paws (pun intended) to think about all of the ways an animal buddy might also be able to look after you.
The Cure of Companionship
For many people, pets are a best friend一one that will listen to you without talking back or judging you (at least to your knowledge!), and one that will loyally remain by your side. Dogs in particular are known for offering absolute devotion and snuggle-power. Hanging out with any animal often feels good for the soul, so it’s little surprise that various studies have shown the companionship of a pet to alleviate loneliness, and in doing so, help to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression.
Playing with Presence
Mindfulness is about being in the present moment rather than ruminating on the past or fretting about the future. Playing with a pet can be a beautiful way to achieve this presence, melting away work worry or generalized anxiety, and enjoying what’s right in front of you with gratitude and compassion – two powerful emotions for improving mental health. (A casual survey of three people in the Infijoy office suggested that the cuter the pet, the more mindful the moment, although we’re still awaiting evidence on this theory!)
Getting Active and Outdoors
We all know how beneficial regular exercise and fresh air can be for our mental health, and a dog walk is a great way to get both. But canine companions aren’t the only ones that can get you off the couch. Rabbits in the garden to go feed? Horses to muck out? A tarantula to turn the house upside down looking for? Pick the pet that will get you motivated to move.
Pets Bring Purpose
Having a purpose in life is extremely important to our mental wellbeing, and so is anchoring with a daily or weekly routine; caring for a pet is a daily reason to get out of bed. A particularly energetic animal might not give you much choice, or the opportunity for a lie in, but even the most low-maintenance critters need feeding and cleaning regularly.
A study that looked into the use of therapy dogs with children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) found that weekly animal interaction improved their focus and behavior. Another found that playing with guinea pigs reduced anxiety in a group of children with autism. You might also have heard of Freckle Butt Fred, a miniature service horse with a penchant for a first-class flight. Fred is one of many miniature horses trained to aid in emotional support. They are used to comfort children and adults who have experienced trauma, are struggling with their mental health or experiencing all kinds of difficulties. One recent study looked into the use of Emotional Support Animals ー which differ slightly from Therapy Animals and Service Animals, each with different purposes and qualifications ー for people with chronic mental health issues. It found that those who regularly interacted with their animal for periods of 10 minutes or more had higher levels of oxytocin, which is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone”, and lower amounts of cortisol, which is also known as the “stress hormone”.
Even when an animal isn’t an officially designated Emotional Support Animal or Therapy Animal, even a common household pet can have a considerable effect on our body’s response to pressure. Some studies looking into how interacting with animals in general ー including pets ー relieves stress have reported a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. Over the long term, owning a pet or regular visitation can contribute to reduced blood pressure and associated heart disease. The increase in oxytocin that can arise from animal interactions also helps to create a greater sense of ease and peace, soothing the nervous system and contributing to emotional healing.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Conceptual Frameworks For Animal Assisted Therapy; Animal Visitation Program Reduces Cortisol Levels Of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial; Paws For Thought: A Controlled Study Investigating The Benefits Of Interacting With A House-Trained Dog On University Students Mood And Anxiety; Depression, Loneliness, And Pet Attachment In Homebound Older Adult Cat And Dog Owners
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