Here is how having a pet will improve your mental health

Most pet owners consider pets part of the family.  If you have a pet, you probably find the companionship soothing.  And you may not be surprised to hear that science agrees with you.  Studies show that relationships with pets make you feel happier and healthier. 

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The power of pets

Pet owners take comfort in the soft purr of a beloved cat or the wagging tail of the family dog.  Experts explain that the responsibilities associated with pet ownership give a sense of purpose, and pets also offer unconditional love. 

People with mental illnesses especially rely on their pets.  NPR cites recent studies and notes, “People with mental illnesses often see their social groups shrink and find themselves alienated from their friends. For many of these people … animals can break through the isolation. They give affection without needing to understand the disorder.”  In one of the studies, participants were asked to rank relationships. They considered their pets closer than family members, therapists and friends. 

The results are compelling.  Some professionals feel so strongly about using pets for mental illness therapies they’re incorporating animals into their programs.  Researchers found a number of specific ways pets improve mental health: 

●      Fresh air and sunshine.  Getting outside with your pet not only gets you moving but exposes you to vitamin D from the sun.  Vitamin D is proven to fight cancer, improve heart health, and lowers depression. 

●      Reduces stress.  Petting an animal releases oxytocin, a feel-good chemical in your body that lowers the stress hormone cortisol. 

●      Live in the moment.  Pets engage you in a way that keeps your mind in the present instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. 

●      Good company.  Pets ease loneliness.  Some pets are sensitive to your mood and seek you out when you feel blue. 

Assistance for addicts

Some researchers found that companion animals have great healing potential for addiction. With as little as one hour per week interacting with shelter dogs, participants in a study exhibited fewer negative feelings like depression and anger. 

Fins, fur or feathers

It turns out that as far as making you feel good, the kind of pet doesn’t much matter.  According to Time, researchers found strong evidence that all sorts of animal interaction is beneficial.  Studies looked at pets such as horses, dogs, fish and crickets.  They revealed that people of all ages and with a variety of disorders routinely found comfort engaging with animals.

Other options

Pets are not for everyone.  Sometimes the responsibilities or expenses are prohibitive, or the timing isn’t right for other reasons.  Here are some things to think about before committing to a pet:

●      What will you do with your pet when you travel?

●      Do you have the money to cover veterinary and other expenses?

●      Are you ready for the daily care of a pet?

●      Some pets live a decade or more.  Are you willing to take on a long-term commitment?

●      If you suffer from severe anxiety or depression, will a pet add to your stress level?

You have other options if pet ownership isn’t right for you.  ReachOut suggests any of the following:

●      Help at an animal shelter

●      Pet sit for a traveling family member or friend

●      Walk or lounge with a pet belonging to a buddy or relative

Your coping companion

Pets are great additions to mental health therapies.  They provide companionship that can provide mental and physical health boosts, and it seems almost any sort of animal interaction is valuable.  If owning a pet isn’t a good choice for you, find ways to spend time with companion animals.  However you decide to add animals to your lifestyle, you will reap the mental health benefits.

Written by Cindy Aldrige