Pets are an integral part of our lives. The joy they bring to everyday activities is infectious. With almost 40% of U.S. households having dogs and just over 25% owning cats, this feeling of joy is experienced by about 70 million households across the country.
But if you had to put your finger on how exactly pets improve our lives, what would you say?
Building Healthy Routines
Caring for our pets adds structure to each day. Whether it’s as simple as setting out food and cleaning out the litter box or as involved as taking the dog on a long walk, the structure that pet needs build into your day is beneficial for maintaining mental health. For many people struggling with mental illness, such regular routines are indispensable.
Caring for our pets also provides the opportunity to exercise! This is especially true for dog owners who find themselves running to keep up with their pets’ energy levels, but any pet that gets you outdoors and moving can provide this benefit.
Exercise is not a cure-all for mental health struggles, but studies have shown that exercise helps manage mental illness symptoms. Not only is it engaging enough to take your mind off of some worries, it naturally releases feel-good chemicals in your brain. These endorphins provide a positive sensation in the body similar to morphine but without the risk of addiction.
Pets help our mental health by providing companionship. Feelings of loneliness are often a tough aspect of mental health struggles, and anything that alleviates these feelings can go a long way! Many pet owners are in the habit of thinking out loud to their pet, as a sort of willing audience to hear out their troubles. Enjoying this built-in audience, not to mention coming home to a wagging tail, can make a big difference!
Pets contribute a sense of responsibility to our daily lives. Our pets depend entirely on us for what they need. Although some people feel that they don’t have anything to offer the world, this experience of being personally responsible for a pet can alleviate such feelings.
Reduce Stress Hormones, Anticipate Panic Attacks and Meet New People
Pets can improve your mental health because they affect your hormones positively! The stress hormone cortisol has been shown to decrease simply by petting a dog. Casual interactions with our furry friends also increase oxytocin, a hormone that significantly lifts one’s mood. Aside from mood boosts, the lower cortisol and higher oxytocin levels help keep blood pressure at healthy levels.
The next element of mental health care is trained assistance with anxiety issues, which makes a huge difference to the individuals who benefit from these animals’ training. Service animals can be trained to notice signs of an anxiety attack before it happens, retrieve someone to help their owner or distract their owner during a lack of immediate care. This training takes a lot of discipline but is critical for those who struggle with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The final significant way pets can improve our mental health is by encouraging us to meet new people! Taking pets on walks to community areas is a great way to make friends with your neighbors in a stress-free environment. Unlike other social situations, community parks provide a low-pressure opportunity to bond over the animals you’re taking care of and the area you live in. Taking your pet out for some exercise is the first step to making that connection happen.
A Parting Reminder
Whether you’re taking your dog on a walk or cleaning up after the cat, the routines and structures that pets add to our lives can be a big boost to our mental well-being. All pet owners know the work they have to put in to take care of their pets, but we should also appreciate everything that pets do for us! New social interactions, frequent exercise habits and a daily sense of companionship are great ways to maintain mental health.