08 Oct 2016 6 Emotional Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
We’ve had dogs and cats for years, since I was a child. They were always there to greet me, even when I was angry or in a sour mood and their instinct always seemed know when I needed a hug. They would lick me, nudge me and cuddle and it always put me in a better mood. Even when I tried to push them away, they were persistent until I gave in. It’s hard to stay in a bad mood when holding a kitten or puppy or when a furry four-legged friend is loving you up! Their unconditional love and dependence on us as pet parents seems to be mood altering. Now, studies actually show that pets can reduce tension and improve mood. Along with professional treatment, pets can help some people with mild to moderate depression feel better! If you’re depressed or anxious, or just need something in your life, maybe a pet can help.
What do furry four-legged friends offer us from an emotional perspective? Here’s just a few ways.
Unconditional and uncomplicated love and acceptance. Are your relationships with family and loved ones sometimes complicated and stressful? Have you had a life change that has put you down in the dumps? Pets seem to love us without opinions, critiques, and judgments. They love us unconditionally and just want us to love them back. They can sense when we need a hug or some extra attention.
Companionship and social interaction. In a Johns Hopkins Depression & Anxiety Bulletin, Karen Swartz, MD, mentions a recent study that found that nursing home residents in St. Louis felt less lonely when they spent quiet time with a dog alone than when they visited with a dog and other residents. When you are depressed, you can feel isolated and lonely. It can make you pull back from your friends and loved ones. If you have a pet, you’re never alone. That can really make a difference.
Responsibility. With pets comes responsibility. And according to depression research, responsibility promotes mental health. You might not think you can take care of a pet right now. Taking care of yourself may seem hard enough. But experts say that adding a little responsibility for something other than yourself, can help you gain a new and positive focus in your life. “Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance,” says Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA. It can remind you that you are capable and you can do more than you might think!
Increased activity. If you are depressed, you may be barely getting off the couch these days. We all need to get more physical activity. Pets can help. “If you have a dog, that dog needs to be walked,” Cook says. When we get a little extra physical activity it’s good for our physical and mental health. And having a daily schedule or routine directed by your pet’s needs and wishes, will help you stay on track.
Touch. Several studies have shown that people feel better when they have regular physical contact with others. Pets offer a similar scenario. There’s something naturally soothing about petting a furry feline on your lap or snuggling with your canine counterpart.
Better health. Research has found that owning a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Other studies have shown that petting a furry friend can lower your heart rate too. Our pets just naturally seem to calm us down. They distract us from the frustrations and stresses of the day, and we just seem to slow down when we are with them.
So just by their mere presence a pet can be uplifting and mood altering. Owning a pet can add so many emotional and physical health benefits to our life. There are thousands of pets looking for a loving home. Think about adopting a pet from a local shelter. If you are experiencing depression and/or anxiety, please seek the help of a medical professional.