Pets are cute, fun, and snuggly. They are happy to see us anytime and love us always. They are a source of joy and affection, close to what we, two legged creatures, call “unconditional love.” As if we need even more reasons to want to have pets, there are even more of “why” four legged creatures are not only good, but good for us.
There has been amazing research studies done on the benefits of animals to an individual’s mental health. Some benefits include: a reduction in stress, a boost in self-esteem, improved mood, and better communication skills. Below are some common mental health concerns and reasons a pet may help to provide a cure:
Petting an animal is believed to cause the release of endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters), which can have an extremely positive impact in patients dealing with depressive disorders. It is thought that by focusing on the animal and its needs, the individual’s attention is drawn away from their own problems. Nothing makes me happier when on a sunny day I am outside running in the grass with my two dogs!
Children with ADHD & other social/learning disabilities
Pets need to play, and playing with a pet is a great way to release excess energy. Your child can burn off energy walking a dog or running around with a kitten, making them more relaxed later in the day and calmer at night. A pet is a great listener, and offers unconditional love and will not criticize a child for having too much energy. This can aid a child's self-confidence. Also it teaches children lessons and responsibility on caring for a living animal. Again, this will help the child feel more valued.
Research is being published that is continuing to support the concept that the social support a pet provides can make a person feel more relaxed and decrease stress. Social support from friends and family can have similar benefits, but interpersonal relationships often cause stress as well, whereas pets may be less likely to cause stress. The social support provided by a pet might also encourage more social interactions with people, reducing feelings of isolation or loneliness. For example, going to a dog park or going for a walk on a trail. You will find yourself meeting a lot of people along the way that are out enjoying the day with their pooches or horses!
Rhythmic petting or grooming can be comforting to your pet and you. Practice being mindful the next time you pet or groom your pet- you want to concentrate on the texture of his soft fur, the warmth he radiates, and his deep breaths- place your hand on his chest and feel the beating of his heart. When you connect with your pet, oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief, is released, helping to reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels. You will feel a calming and soothing feeling!
Meditational & grounding presence
Animals distract us and keep us present at the same time! Being present and engaged with your pet takes your thoughts off of the issues that are really bothering you and causing you stress. When you are fully in the moment, you are not worrying about the past or the future. It’s just you and your pet. So enjoy the day hiking with your pooch or riding through the pastures on your horse!
Loneliness and isolation
A great example of this is dog parks. There are many I have taken my two dogs to, I especially love the Frankfort Dog Park. Be sure to check out Frankfort’s community website- they have an adorable doggie Easter Egg Hunt at the dog park every year! Dog parks allow for more opportunities for socialization for both your dog and you. Your dog makes friends pretty easily and will break the ice so you can connect with new people!
Are you a pet owner? Whether it be a cat, horse, rabbit, lizard, or dog. There are many benefits that pets bring to our mental health and daily lives. Please love, enjoy, and take good care of your pets. You will get so much more in return!