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When you think of ways to relieve stress and take a mental health break, what comes to mind? For most, you probably think of things like exercise, reading, journaling or meditation. Those are all great, but did you know that your pets could also be one of the best stress relievers?
In the last few months that we’ve been living with the reality of COVID-19, many experts have found a rise in depression and anxiety to be an underlying crisis. In fact, more than a third of Americans have reported symptoms related to depression and anxiety, many of which are a result of being stuck at home. With October 4-10 being Mental Health Awareness Week and October 10 being World Mental Health Day, we wanted to shed some light onto how having your pet around the house can help you fight any of your mental health battles.
Research has shown there are plenty of reasons why we as people should have animal companions at home. Caring for pets, especially dogs and cats, has been shown to drastically improve human lives in regard to their mental health. In this article we’ll be focusing on how and why having a furry friend like a cat or dog can help relieve your stress and benefit your mental health.
Pets help you live in the moment. Anxiety often comes as a result of worrying about the future or thinking about the past. Your pet, however, always lives in the present moment and will remind you to be more present and mindful of the now. Having the companionship of an animal in your home can help reduce your anxiety, provide comfort and most importantly, give you the confidence you need to tackle your day.
Having a pet helps combat loneliness. Being home alone all day can be hard on anyone, and as human beings, we crave attention and physical touch. Whether it’s online school or work-from-home, COVID-19 has definitely created an environment of feeling lonely for many. Having your pet at home gives you a companion for all those times when you need some love, snuggles or someone to vent to (animals are the BEST listeners).
Though they don’t necessarily replace the need for human interaction, animals are capable of filling the voids people feel with social isolation and lack of social support. In a sense, they can be the best antidotes during moments of loneliness.
Having a pet encourages you to move. We already established that exercise is a solution that many people think of when it comes to relieving stress and mental health. When taking care of animals that require regular physical activity, it almost forces you to have to get up and move. Go on a walk. Go on a run. Play fetch. Regardless of the activity, having your pet to keep you moving and active is a fantastic way to combat stress and anxiety.
Your pet can improve your sleep. Who doesn’t love a good night of sleep? What about those Sunday afternoon naps? It’s easy to say we like to sleep, but the truth is, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. Lack of sleep not only has terrible side effects on our physical wellbeing, but it is also capable of negatively impacting your mental health as well. Stress and anxiety can keep you up late at night and can often carry into your mornings as well, creating a cycle of restlessness. This is where your pet comes in!
As mentioned before, your pet can encourage you to move. Taking your pet outside for some physical activity, no matter what it is, can help you achieve deeper and more restful sleep. With as little as 30 minutes of moving around, you and your pet will be able to enjoy a good snooze when you wind down for the day. Just make sure you aren’t exercising too close to your bedtime, as stimulating your body before bed can actually make it more difficult to sleep!
Pets have therapeutic effects on people. While not exactly medicine, animals do often have therapeutic effects on people, as they fulfill the basic human need for touch. Studies have shown that playing with your pet actually increases serotonin and dopamine levels, hormones in our body that help with calming, relaxing and happiness. Pet owners have also been found to have lower blood pressure in stressful situations, something I’m sure we are all well familiar with since COVID-19 hit.
We at Sunset Animal Hospital understand that times are hard. COVID-19 has presented a wide variety of challenges and battles for each of us to deal with, but we hope that having your pet around you more often than ever before has allowed you to find some peace and comfort. Our pets look up to us, and there is no one more important to them than their owner, so spend some time with your pet today and receive the love and support they give when times get tough.