How Can Your Pets Improve Your Mental Health?
Updated: Sep 22
Humans and animals have evolved to live together and develop together.
The bonds between us humans and the animal kingdom are powerful and very much needed. From a bird chirping in a tree to a chicken sitting on your knee, the impact is huge. Studies carried out by psychologists have shown a significant positive correlation between the effects of animals on human mental health.
If you have family pets, you’ll know that they are not just animals, but they are members of the family too. We attribute human qualities to them and in return they try and match our expectations.
Animals and their human traits provide laughter, hope and happiness on a daily basis to their owners and those they come in contact with. On social media channels they continue to entertain us with their antics and funny faces. We watch more animal videos than anything else it seems. A video of a cute puppy or kitten or an animal doing something funny will rank higher than anything else.
By and large most of the world loves animals and for a very good reason. I would think twice about trusting people who do not like animals. After all, I grew up with that famous saying. ‘There’s something wrong with you if an animal doesn’t like you.’ That stuck with me and I gauge every reaction to others that my dog and cat make. Sometimes their intuition is spot on.
Many research studies have been carried out on the importance of having pets in our everyday human lives.
The mental health benefits of owning a dog or cat have been proven to be numerous through many scientific studies. Animals help us humans with depression, anxiety, and stress. They provide us with companionship and ease the burden of loneliness. Pets bring us joy and unconditional love that we sometimes don’t get from our fellow humans. For example, If I don’t see my friends or family from one week to the next, it’s not a big deal to us all but if I walk out of the room and back into it 30 seconds later, my dog is so excited to see me it’s as though I’ve been away forever and this novelty never wears thin. When you are feeling blue the best thing to do is spend time with animals. They don’t judge you, they don’t ask for anything in return and they definitely don’t bare grudges against you.
In a study on the positive effects of keeping pets Psychologist Alan Beck and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher measured what happens to the body when a person pets a friendly dog. They found many beneficial side effects and amongst them where, a lowering of the blood pressure, reduced heart rate, regulated breathing and the relaxation of muscles to reduce muscle tension.
Research validates the benefits of pets for mental health but what about animals in general? Further Research has proven there is more than a correlation between positive mental health and animals.
When I’m sad and the world is getting me down it’s the animals that cheer me up. From the cows and sheep at the Funbarn to horses in the neighbouring fields and the chickens in the garden. You can have so much fun with animals it’s unreal. If you’re not aware of the ridiculously funny things chickens do, you might want to check out YouTube or take a look at my Instagram page.
They sit and watch TV, they have a bath, they get their hair dried under the hairdryer, they eat off human plates (their own plates) and follow you around as if they are your shadow. They even argue with me on who is keeping the eggs them or me? I lose most of the time.
Animals, and pets, especially dogs and cats (sorry chickens, on this occasion you didn’t make the list), can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Keeping a pet can ease loneliness, encourage you to exercise more, and can even improve your cardiovascular health. How many times has your dog taken you for a walk this week? Try a brisk walk or even jogging with your dog. The companionship of a pet should provide stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost mood and ease depression. I know this from experience, when a bad mood hits it’s always the dog or cat who make me feel better. A brisk walk with the little pouch makes me feel a whole lot better. For my daughter it’s the chickens. There’s nothing like a good chase around the garden to get you laughing (chickens chasing her for food).
Caring for an animal can help children grow up to be more emotionally secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for single and older adults. Not to forget, a pet can bring unconditional joy and love to your life.
Studies have found that pets fulfil the basic human need for touch. Even hardened criminals in prisons show long-term changes in their behaviour after interacting with pets. It’s sad but the studies showed that many of the criminals experienced mutual affection for the very first time. People are not born criminals they are made either by circumstance or society, but that’s another story.
Stroking, hugging, and picking up a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe your nerves when you are stressed or anxious. There is a reason petting centres exist.
Caring for a pet can help you to make healthy lifestyle changes by:
Taking a dog for a walk is a fun and rewarding way to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements than non-dog owners.
Companionship can help prevent illness and it can even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for an animal can help to make you feel needed and wanted, and it can help to take the focus away from your problems.
Meet new people
Pets can be that social glue that brings people together. They are often the talking point and can help you to make new friends. Dog owners often stop to chat to each other whilst out on walks.
Animals can offer comfort, and help to ease anxiety, and build self-confidence. Pets live very much in the moment, you won’t find your dog or your cat worrying about the bills or what’s for tea or crying over being dumped by someone that’s not even fit to be your partner. Nope, animals live for that very second and we should too. Mindfulness is a great way of relieving stress and anxiety symptoms, but I’ll cover that in another blog.
Structure and routine
All my animals, the chickens, dog, the cat and the fish all require feeding at particular times during the day. Having a consistent routine will not only keep your pets balanced and calm it will keep you balanced and calm too. No matter your mood, depressed, anxious, or stressed, your pet will have a solution for you. Whether it’s a quick cuddle or a tug and pull with a toy your pet will help you to feel uplifted.
Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. Stroking your pet dog, cat, or other animal in my case chickens, can help to lower blood pressure and enable you to feel calmer and less stressed in a short period of time.
Recovery from Mental Illness
Pets can help people recover from severe mental health conditions. In one study researchers found evidence that looking after a pet will benefit people with mental health conditions.
The research looked at how cats, dogs, hamsters, finches, and even goldfish can affect the mental well-being of people living with a mental illness. The overall review of the study showed pets helped participants in the study to manage their emotions better. Researchers also found pets were able to distract the participants long enough to prevent them from focusing on the symptoms of their mental health condition.
Researchers have also confirmed caring for a pet can give pet owners a feeling of being in control and a sense of security and routine.
Pets offer validation through unconditional love and support for their owners which can so often bridge the gap which exists between their owners and other humans. Pet ownership has a valuable contribution to the prevention and control of mental health issues and pets have a valid and valued place in the positive mental health care of humans.
In keeping a pet you will adopt better, healthier lifestyle changes which can play an important role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
All species are not created equally but they should be. . . make your pet an equal part of your life today and watch the benefits come flooding in.
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