How does having a pet benefit your mental health?

In the world of today, a lot of people are struggling to cope with the ever-increasing challenge of maintaining good mental health. We’ve seen seven-fold increases in rates of depression, panic attacks, and other stress-induced problems all over the civilized world. At the same time, pet owners are amongst those who are least affected by psychological issues and any mental illness. As studies and owner testimonials suggest, having a pet can benefit your mental health. But how exactly?

What happens when you’re around a pet you like?

The very first studies about animal impact on human mental health came around in the mid-1980s’. They established that being around a pet (regardless of bond and connection levels, even) improved the emotional state of the person. The study was concluded by allowing people to pet a friendly dog which they had no prior relationship with.

The study showed undeniable evidence that pets are capable of aiding people, at least emotionally. Analysis showed a slowed heart rate, a decrease in blood pressure, stabilised breathing and relaxed muscle tension. It were these first studies which paved the way for a thing which today is called animal-assisted therapy. Therapeutic dogs can be labelled as a direct by-product of this study and are only present today because of it.

There is also the equine assisted therapy in which a human is paired with a horse in order to help them overcome some kind of mental issues that they may be having. Through non-verbal communication and a lot of up-close physical bonding, people and animals are able to form a connection that is mutually beneficial. Knowing that a pet isn’t too demanding or difficult to deal with, a person is able to relax and completely be themselves, stripping away most inhibitions and problems that are haunting them in everyday life.

Pets are anxiety and stress tacklers

The same studies and further, more in-depth research has concluded that being with pets:

  • Lowers the output of stress hormones
  • Reduces the occurrence of anxiety and panic attacks
  • Help people deal with certain fears
  • Stimulate emotional betterment through fitness

After just around 300 seconds of interaction with pets (5 minutes), people can feel an increase of dopamine and serotonin. These two hormones are related to excitement, happiness and relaxation. The secretion of them significantly reduces the impact that stress hormones do to your body. You can’t help but feel happier.

On the other hand, playing with friendly cats and dogs have also shown to stimulate oxytocin production. It’s also a natural anti-stress hormone which, in combination with the two aforementioned hormones, reduces blood pressure, stress and can suppress a lot of fear, panic and anxiety.

A longer study showed one more interesting result. It seems that children, who are exposed to pets early in their lives are able to avoid anxiety and panic related problems. Only 12% of children with childhood pets tested positive for anxiety whilst the number was 21% for people who lived without pets.

Loneliness is very dangerous

If 2020 showed us one thing is that being enclosed between 4 walls is very dangerous to your mental health. Even more so, if you’re stuck in confinement and quarantining alone. However, if you have the company of another human being or pets, you don’t have to be lonely.

Being without company showed a very negative impact on people’s health. After the first lockdown was over in the late spring-summer of 2020, psychologists and shrinks reported a record increase in patients, who came to them with symptoms of depression and other mental issues.

And by having a cat or a dog, you will never feel alone because there will be a furry (or non-furry) four-legged creature roaming around you.

Wanna feel better?

It is true that pets do boost our self-esteem and make us feel needed. With regards to the latter, being a caregiver or a caretaker is a very rewarding sensation that is related to our paternal and maternal instincts. It gives life purposefulness and makes us feel better about ourselves.

In addition, the APA or the American Psychological Association did a study on how pets can benefit their owners. With regards to better self-esteem, owning a pup showed to boost physical fitness (naturally), force people to become more extroverted and fear less. By living with a pet people were able to gain character traits which would allow them to persevere serious challenges in life and get over difficult barriers.

Conclusions

To sum up, we can clearly see that there is a link between living with a pet and having better mental health. Both cats and dogs as well as most other pets for that matter are able to lift our spirits, help us overcome certain challenges and avoid severe problems, related to stress & anxiety attacks. Thus, owning a pet is great and you should definitely consider getting one.

If you want to read more about pets and learn neat pet ownership tips & tricks, hop over to Ourpetsmag.com.

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