How Pets Can Support Your Mental Health
If you have a pet, you understand how much love and affection furry friends can offer, especially when you're feeling a little down. There is nothing quite like a soothing snuggle with your pet after a long and exhausting day.
Spending quality time with pets has been confirmed to reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue, and pain symptoms for individuals in recovery and those who struggle with mental illness. So how can pets support your mental health, exactly?
Benefits of Interacting with Animals
Research indicates pets can improve mental health. Activities such as volunteering at a pet shelter, walking dogs, or pet sitting provide many benefits for improved mental health if you don't have a pet of your own.
The relationship between you and a pet can help relieve your anxiety by decreasing cortisol levels in your brain and increasing dopamine and oxytocin levels. Some individuals do not want the full responsibility of owning a pet, or they cannot care for a pet physically and financially. Luckily, you can always volunteer to help out at a local pet shelter or pet sit for a friend and reap the rewards without the long-term commitment.
Increasing Your Physical Activity Level
If you own a dog or a horse, you may take your pet for regular walks, offering a unique way to exercise, get fresh air, and care for your pet at the same time. Pets provide a reason to go outside and be active, simultaneously improving mood, sleep patterns, and mental health.
Pets are good listeners, provide unconditional love, and will not criticize or judge you. Additionally, interactions with pets, such as cuddling or teaching them specific behaviors and tricks, positively impact your self-acceptance and self-esteem when you successfully care for your pet.
Pets provide you with someone to spend time with. Taking care of or playing with your pet gives you a feeling that you are wanted and needed. This is valuable if you are in recovery or struggle with mental illness so you don't feel alone.
Adding Structure to Your Daily Routine
If you have a pet, you will need to ensure they have food, water, and exercise on a schedule. Ensuring all of those tasks are completed for your pet will give your day structure that can help you feel more focused while giving you a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Helping You Meet New People
Pet owners, specifically dog owners, have been known to stop and talk to other individuals when out on walks with their pets. As a result, pet owners get an increase in social interactions, social support, and feelings of happiness.
Benefits of Having a Pet in Recovery
The human-animal relationship in therapeutic settings has substantially increased throughout the last few decades. Studies show that pets can effectively reduce heart rate and blood pressure. Research has also revealed that human and animal interactions decrease stress hormones, relieve loneliness, increase feelings of social support, promote calmness, and improve mood. Furthermore, playing with pets has been proven to raise oxytocin and dopamine levels in the brain, producing positive feelings and connections for both the individual and their pet.
Severe mental illness can adversely affect an individual's social, educational, and occupational aspects while confining social circles and increasing loneliness. Recovery from severe mental illnesses requires the restoration of self-esteem and identity and achieving a significant role in society beyond simple relief from symptoms.
Though severe mental health disorders are seen as ongoing and degenerate illnesses, several studies have validated that pet ownership or interactions with animals reduces social isolation. These studies understand means for reducing isolation and improving quality of life to help ease recovery are bolstered by animal intervention.
Pets can also be beneficial in therapy programs and recovery for many health concerns, including:
- Individuals in chemotherapy
- Residents of assisted-living homes or long-term care facilities
- Patients in the hospital with chronic heart disease
- Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Children undergoing medical procedures
- Individuals who participate in physical therapy to reestablish motor skills, such as stroke victims
- People with mental health disorders
- Individuals in recovery from addiction
There are many different ways pets can help individuals who struggle with mental health disorders or are in recovery. There is nothing like the joy you feel when coming home to a loyal and devoted companion who is always happy to see you. However, we must further our knowledge to understand how activities with animals relate to an individual's well-being.
We all know the old saying that dogs are “man’s best friend.” There is a reason that phrase is so famous. Along with the previously discussed benefits, dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, and other types of pets can reduce beliefs of psychological threats during stressful circumstances and reduce stress among women and elderly individuals. If that doesn't sound like a best friend, what does?
Animal assistance in therapy has significantly increased throughout the last few decades and has proven successful when incorporating pets in the lives of individuals with mental health problems. Furthermore, the interaction between humans and animals proves to be beneficial in decreasing symptoms for those in recovery. At Achieve Medical Center, we recognize the turmoil mental health disorders can cause in your social, educational, and occupational aspects of life, and we are here to help. Achieve Medical Center provides a comprehensive mental health program for children, adolescents, and adults in California, Oregon, and Alaska. We accept that each patient is unique and practice diverse problem-solving techniques to help you or your child overcome anxiety, depression, fatigue, substance use disorder, and much more. Achieve Medical Center’s team of psychiatrists helps you get your quality of life back. If you or a loved one have a mental health disorder or shows signs of a mental illness, call us at (619) 381-8249.