The Power of Pets for Improved Mental Health
We live in a pet-loving culture. Just look at the number of adorable and funny memes on the internet that feature a domestic animal. The human love of pets is a global and powerful phenomenon.
Animal domestication began early in human history but pet ownership has really been on the up in recent years. Globally, 57% of households own pets and in the U.S. 70 percent of households own a pet. Dogs are the most popular animal brought into the home, followed by cats, then fish, then birds.
Isn’t it time you jumped on board and got yourself a pet?
The power of pets for improved mental health
Pet ownership is more than simply having a furry friend to keep you company. There are a ton of physical health benefits that come from owning a pet, with a dog helping you to stay active through walks and play. Regular cardiovascular activity can help to give you more energy and greater fitness, and improve overall health and wellness.
Aside from the physical health benefits, pet ownership offers a range of benefits for a person’s mental health. In fact, it’s for mental health purposes where pet ownership really shines. Here’s nine ways that pet ownership can improve overall mental health:
- Pets lower stress levels
Interacting with a beloved pet reduces levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone. It also increases the release of oxytocin, another chemical that naturally reduces stress. Studies show these benefits can occur after just five minutes of interacting with a pet, making pet ownership a great tool for people who experience high levels of stress and anxiety.
- Pets prevent loneliness
Nothing beats the feeling of walking in the door to an excited pet that’s eagerly waiting to greet you. For a person experiencing feelings of loneliness, pets provide companionship that’s affectionate, accepting, loyal, honest and consistent. Pets can also fulfill the human need to touch when physical contact with others is limited.
- Pets provide a sense of purpose
Pets are dependents, requiring their owner to provide them with food, shelter, medical care, exercise, love and play. Having this obligation of care can give you a greater sense of purpose and meaning in your life. This is especially true in times when you are challenged by what the meaning is, giving you a renewed sense of being.
- Pets increase sociability
Having a pet gives you more opportunity for social interaction. Be it during a walk on the beach or in the park, you can increase your social network due to a shared interest in your pets. For those who fear being socially interactive, a pet offers comfort and can help to slowly introduce you to new people.
- Pets improve mood and fight depression
By serving as a distraction from typical symptoms of depression and by encouraging more physical activity, pet ownership can help you to cope with feelings of depression and other long-term mental health issues. Research also demonstrates that having a pet can make you laugh more.
- Pet’s lower blood pressure
The sensory act of stroking a pet is thought to lower blood pressure. Studies show that petting a dog for just 15 minutes can lower blood pressure by 10% by releasing ‘feel-good’ hormones. The same effect can be had from stroking a cat, rabbit or turtle.
- Pets increase self-esteem
Studies show that people with pets have higher levels of self-esteem than those without pets. Animals are non-judgemental creatures and love their owners no matter what. They don’t compare you to other others and don’t care what you have and what you do not. There’s no need to try to be someone you’re not with a pet, and this can fill you with greater confidence and self-worth.
- Pets help you stay in the moment
Animals don’t worry about what happened yesterday and they don’t care what’s going to happen tomorrow. This is a great reminder for pet owners to simply live in the moment and to practice mindfulness – the art of bringing yourself into the present time.
- Pets encourage you to build routine
Cats and dogs are routine animals and because they need to be taken care of every day, there’s a need to build healthy habits and routines. One of these healthy habits is to ensure you get out in nature every day. Nature can generate a multitude of positive emotions, including better mood, calmness and greater focus. Another healthy habit starts with getting up and beginning your day with some affection for your pet.
Bringing a pet into your life
Bringing a pet into your life is a big commitment. When you take on a pet, you agree to take care of its every need for the rest of its life. Pet ownership isn’t always easy, but with so many physical and mental health benefits to pet ownership, taking on a pet is well worth it.
Adding a new family member is an exciting feeling. This feeling is amplified when you adopt a pet who’s needing a new home. There’s a lot you can do to enrich the life of a furry friend and the joy they experience and the gratitude they show you will enrich your life too.
Pets are an amazing source of comfort and support and will love you without condition and bias. If you cannot bring one into your home full time, consider other options to ensure you benefit from time spent with an animal companion.
Volunteer to be a pet sitter. Help out in an animal shelter. Offer to take your friend’s dog for a walk. There are plenty of alternatives for those wanting to experience the joy of pet ownership without the full commitment.