As the adage goes, dogs are "man's best friend." Indeed, dogs and other domesticated animals have been by humans' side for centuries. The last few years, mental health issues have been in the spotlight, and us pet people know that having a pet people in our home definitely boosts our mental wellbeing!
According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), 74 percent of pet owners reported an improvement in their mental well-being after getting a pet. Pets are loyal companions that offer unconditional love and support. Therefore, they can be particularly beneficial for those struggling with mental health issues. In this post, we'll explore how owning a pet not only offers unparalleled companionship but also how the experience itself can be a holistic journey that improves your mental well-being.
Reducing loneliness and isolation
One of the most obvious but still significant advantages of a pet is companionship. Isolation can quickly trigger a feeling of loneliness that can lead to depression. Having a four-legged friend by your side helps you develop a sense of purpose that may be difficult for some people to find elsewhere. In addition, caring for a pet has proven to add years to your life, as it prevents illness.
Moreover, pets can be an excellent way to meet new people. If you have a dog, you've probably seen countless people stopping you while walking your dog. Instead of perceiving it as annoying, think of it as a shortcut to making new friends.
Managing mental health and wellbeing
Research has shown that pets can help people manage symptoms of depression and anxiety time and time again. The use of touch and movement by stroking or petting a pet can help to lower blood pressure, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and release oxytocin, a hormone associated with feelings of relaxation.
In addition to the benefits of physical touch, caring for a pet can also have a positive impact on fighting more serious cases of stress, addiction, and other mental health issues - giving many of us a sense of purpose. “Pets release feel-good chemicals in your brain (which get depleted over the course of an addiction), such as the “love hormone” oxytocin, enhancing your ability to connect with others”, explains Olivia Marcellino, VP of Research at LuxuryRehabs.com. “This not only helps you open up more easily in therapy, but establishes positive emotional patterns you can take with you well into recovery.”
The act of caring for another being helps you feel connected to nature and promote emotional health. This can be particularly important if you're currently disconnected from the world around you or feeling lost.
Improving physical health
In addition to giving you an emotional boost, pets also have the power to help you improve your physical health. A year-long study at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago found that walking an overweight dog can help you shed a few pounds.
In addition, dogs are similar to a gym buddy, in that they empower you to exercise - with more consistency and zero negativity. Moreover, taking a dog for a walk is beneficial for exercise and a great way to go outside, get some fresh air and take a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Walking your pet is also an excellent way to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to maintain a moment-by-time awareness of thoughts, feelings and bodily movement.
By walking your pet, you can practice mindfulness by focusing on the sensation of walking, looking at your surroundings, and focusing on your pet. This allows you to calm down the cacophony of thoughts and, in turn, reduce the feeling of anxiety.
Adding structure and routine
Pets force you to adopt a routine that can be helpful for people with conditions such as depression or ADHD. Many pets, especially dogs, need a routine when it comes to feeding and exercise. A consistent routine makes the animal - as well as you - feel more balanced and calm.
No matter how you feel that day, you still have to wake up and take your dog for a walk. This helps you build a routine that makes you feel grounded.
Alternative options for connecting with animals
Depending on your living conditions, you may not always be able to have a pet that you can care for twenty-four-seven. This is where fostering and volunteering come in.
Volunteering in an animal shelter can be a great way to connect with animals and improve your mental well-being. In addition to the mental health benefits of volunteering, you'll also be helping the animals and your community. This can further boost your mood and self-esteem. Many animal shelters allow volunteers to feed the animals, pet them and walk them. Some shelters also teach you how to take care of them and help you develop a brand new set of skills.
In addition to volunteering, fostering is another great way to experience a special connection with an animal and also to help out densely-populated animal shelters. According to the ASPCA, about 5.3 million companion animals enter animal shelters in the United States each year. There is therefore a great demand for fosterers.
Fostering can be particularly life-changing for animals who need additional care or attention, as you'll provide them with a temporary but loving home until they find their forever home. Fostering can also be a great way to test the waters if you're thinking about getting a long-term pet, as it can give you a taste of what to expect from a pet.
It's important to keep in mind that owning a pet is a great commitment and that animals are not a miracle cure for mental health issues. Owning a pet is a good way to enhance your life and boost your mental wellbeing. However, it's crucial to take into account the time, money, effort and resources pets need to live a healthy and happy life.
Before you bring a pet to your home, you need to do your research and choose the right pet for you and your lifestyle. Research various species and breeds, and carefully consider which would fit into your life. By making an informed decision, you can experience the full benefits of animal companionship and provide your pet with a great quality of life.