Pets are valued members of countless households around the world. We love our pets, and in return, they give us unconditional love, loyalty, and affection. Most pet owners are probably already well aware that their pet boosts their mood and makes them feel relaxed and at ease.
However, for those living with mental health challenges, pets provide invaluable support and this can have a positive impact on the mental well-being of their owners.
The human-animal bond can enhance mental health in a number of ways, especially for those suffering from stress, depression, post-traumatic stress, and other conditions.
We look at some of the most important impacts a pet can have on the mental and emotional welfare of its human family members.
1.Stress and anxiety reduction
Studies suggest therapy dogs, for example, can assist with stress reduction. Even as little as 10 minutes spent petting a dog or cat can lead to a major reduction in cortisol levels. cortisol is the body’s central stress hormone and is a reliable indicator of stress levels.
The loyalty, consistency, acceptance, and companionship your pet offers could alleviate anxiety and help strengthen your confidence. Animals live in the moment and their attitude can be infectious, encouraging you to be more mindful about staying joyful in the present instead of worrying about the past or the future.
Simply by looking at your pet could enhance your mood and counter stress and anxiety. Research shows maintaining eye contact with your dog causes your body to release oxytocin, also known as the happy hormone or love hormone. Playing with your pet can raise levels of calming and relaxing chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
Children with pets tend to be less stressed. Pets can provide comfort and self-esteem and act as confidants for young children. They can help with separation anxiety and improve mental health outcomes while reducing development disorders in kids. This could prevent mental and emotional disorders when they reach adulthood.
2.Providing breaks from symptoms
A pet could also better assist people with mental health challenges by distracting them and giving them a break from the symptoms, whether it’s with affection, companionship, or play.
The calming energy and presence of a dog or other pet can encourage the owner to relax and centre themselves. It can be a reliable source of comfort and support in the owner’s life. This could help the individual with managing and overcoming any negative emotional states.
3.Alleviate PTSD symptoms
Pets can assist those suffering trauma. For example, research demonstrates dogs can help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by alleviating their symptoms.
Veterans who have service dogs enjoy better mental health and well-being. They have lower levels of stress, depression, social and isolation. In addition, they report higher levels of life satisfaction, overall psychological well-being, resilience, and companionship.
According to research, pet owners are less likely to experience depression than people who don’t have pets. This could be due to the unconditional companionship and love your dog, cat, or another type of pet gives you. It could be due to a reduced sense of isolation and loneliness or the sense of responsibility you have for caring for another being.
The ability of pets to reduce depression could also be due to the fact our furry companions address the basic human need for touch and physical affection. Stroking, holding, and playing with a loving, happy pet can boost your mood and ease negative emotions.
Social relationships are positively correlated with better mental health. Pets are a great way to improve socialisation. Owning a dog, in particular, will give you excellent opportunities to get out and strike up conversations with people in the neighbourhood, at the park, on hikes, and in the outdoors.
You could make new friends, as could your canine buddy, at a pet group, pet shows, or training schools. In turn, this can reduce loneliness and social isolation, enabling you to feel more connected. For those with social phobias, a pet can assist with slowly building confidence and reducing the fear of being with other people.
6.Boost fitness and general mental health
Owning a pet could enhance your physical fitness, which in turn can counter stress and anxiety and so support improved mental health outcomes. As an example, a lot of dog owners enjoy higher levels of fitness because of the time they spend playing, exercising, and walking their dogs.
7.Purpose and stability of daily routines
Having an animal family member to care for gives you a sense of purpose. Feeding, exercising, grooming, and cleaning after a dog or cat means you have a daily routine to follow. You’ll have an excuse to get out of bed and stay focused and organised throughout your day.
For those with mental health challenges, this purpose and predictability can be all-important grounding factors that help them stay engaged with life and centred. It can help them feel in control, boost their self-esteem, and increase life satisfaction. This could be especially important for people who live alone and feel socially isolated.
The responsibilities of owning a pet
Pets can make wonderful, loyal companions, but they also need looking after. It’s important to be sure you can look after your animal companion before you decide to take on caring for one.
Pet ownership is a major commitment in terms of time, effort, and finances. Your pet is likely to live for 10, 15, or even 20 years, and at the end of that period, you will be facing the grief of losing your animal family member.
With major changes like moving house and changes to their household environment, they may need support with the transition just like a human does. If you decide to take on the joy and responsibility that comes with being a pet owner, consider the type of pet that will best suit your lifestyle.
Those living with mental health challenges could benefit significantly from having an animal companion. Dogs, cats, and other animals can alleviate stress and anxiety and counter depression.
The love, joy, and companionship of your furry friend could also help with trauma and provide much-needed breaks from the symptoms of other mental health issues. Pets give you a sense of purpose and a structure to your day; the responsibilities can provide a grounding force for your daily life.
They can also provide you with more socialisation opportunities so you’re less likely to feel lonely and isolated. While having an animal family member is rewarding, it comes with long-term responsibilities, so ensure you can take care of a pet before committing to ownership.