Playing With a Pet Can Boost Your Mental Health
Who doesn’t love coming home to cuddle and play with a dog or cat? Owning a pet is like having a soft and happy best friend at all hours of the day. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love spending some quality time with their furry friend. However, are you aware that owning a pet can boost your overall mental health?
While it might seem obvious, owning a pet has proven to be an effective way to help those living with mental illness. Many people often see pets as just another member of the family, but they can help improve your mental health by just being in your vicinity. For example, many veterans receive emotional support animals (ESA) to help them with mental health disorders they develop after their time in service (such as PTSD). Even children’s hospitals bring in emotional support animals to help boost the morale of young patients.
Most pet owners recognize the almost immediate joy they get from hanging out with their furry friends. However, many pet owners are unaware of the physical and mental health benefits our pets bring us. There is a strong and complicated bond between humans and pets that we have only begun to understand.
Owning a pet is a great way to boost your mental health. However, you have to be committed to caring for and loving your pet. If not, you’re not doing the animal nor yourself any favors. For those living with a mental health disorder, Lifeworks Counseling Center is here to help you take back control of your life.
How Pets Impact Your Mental Health
When people think about emotional support animals, naturally, their first thoughts turn to dogs. After all, you’re more likely to see dogs as emotional support pets compared to any other animals. However, dogs are not the only pets that can boost your mental health. Cats, birds, turtles, rabbits, and even fish can all impact your mental health the same way.
Some teen mental health programs have incorporated equine therapy, as well. As you can see, it does not matter the animal. Owning a pet can do wonders for your mental health. However, just what are the mental health benefits of owning a pet?
Life is full of stressors, whether from work, school, or others. In fact, the U.S. is one of the most stressed countries in the world. With the current global pandemic still present, these stress levels only look to increase. However, interacting with a pet can reduce stress.
Studies have found that just petting animals, such as dogs and cats, for as little as ten minutes can dramatically reduce your cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body’s natural stress hormone. Not only do your cortisol levels go down, but playing with your furry friend can also increase the release of oxytocin, which is the chemical that naturally reduces stress.
Coming home and playing with your pet can significantly reduce your stress after a long day.
Improves Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
As we mentioned earlier, interacting with animals for even ten minutes can reduce your cortisol levels. However, it also boosts the production of serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals are your body’s natural feel-good hormones. They calm and relax your nervous system while also improving your mood.
A study involving 643 children found that those with a dog at home were less likely to have anxiety than those without one. Pet owners report lower levels of depression and anxiety overall compared to those without a pet.
In a 2016 study, researchers gave elders five crickets to care for and look after. The researchers monitored their mood for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, they discovered that the group that was caring for the crickets were less depressed than those who were not. Thus, researchers concluded that caring for a living creature boosts one’s mental health.
One thing that people don’t necessarily think about when owning a pet is how much more active they become, but it’s true! Just like humans, animals need physical activity to keep them healthy, especially dogs. Owning a pet encourages you to get active and exercise more.
Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mental health. It boosts the production of happy brain chemicals, gives you a healthy outlet for stress, boosts your self-esteem, and much more. Studies show that dog owners are more likely to meet their daily requirements for exercise compared to non-dog owners.
Through daily walks, your bond with your pet will only strengthen.
Did you know that isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety? That is why so many people have struggled with their mental health throughout the global pandemic.
Fortunately, owning a pet provides you with a companion in periods of loneliness. Companionship not only helps prevent depression, but it also lowers your risk for long-term health problems and adds years to your life. People with pets report lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without one, which reduces your risk for heart disease.
Caring for your pet makes you feel needed and wanted, giving you purpose. It allows you to focus on something other than your problems.
It is common for pet owners to talk to their dog, cat, or bird. Doing so helps them work through their problems verbally, helping them come to solutions easier. Nothing beats loneliness quite like coming home to your pet.
Pets Improve Socialization
As we mentioned before, pet owners often speak with their pets when they are home alone. While owning a pet gives you a companion to hang out with at home, it also improves your socialization with other humans.
After all, when you take your dog for a walk or to the dog park, you might run into other dog owners. It gives you a chance to socialize with other people and keeps you from becoming more and more withdrawn.
Experts also believe that face-to-face interactions initiate neurotransmitters that are responsible for regulating anxiety and stress. Many of the chemicals we have already discussed are released during face-to-face interactions.
Caring for a Pet
As you can see, owning a pet is one of the best things you can do for your overall mental health. Those suffering from serious mental health disorders note that owning a pet helps them manage their emotions and mental health better. However, simply owning a pet is not enough. You must be committed to your pet, ensuring that it is well fed and looked after. If not, you do more harm to the animal than you help yourself.
However, sometimes owning a pet is not enough. Some individuals require more extensive treatment and therapy to help them with their mental health disorders. That is where Lifeworks Counseling Center comes in. Our team of expert therapists has the experience and understanding to help you live life well again.