People enjoy spending time with all kinds of pets including dogs, cats, horses, and other animals. The positive impact on mood and health has been researched for many years, leading to the creation of pet-assisted therapy organizations and foundations that help and support to people with mental health disorders, anxiety, phobias, even autism. Aside from the interaction with an animal, there are myriad ways of having a pet around can provide stress-relief and build positive relational skills while promoting health.
A Healthy Heart
Dogs are favorite pets of millions of people the world over. People who own dogs are less likely to get heart disease. Some of the reasons vary from getting more exercise to lowering blood pressure and reducing stress. Pets are good for those who have existing heart conditions as they can be soothing to have as companions when coping with medical or health-related diagnoses. Heart attack survivors and people who struggle with abnormal heart rhythms often live longer when they have dogs by their side than those who had similar heart problems without a canine companion.
Pets are a great way to connect with others. Dog parks are a huge thing right now for training or just letting dogs get all their energy out. Plus, they are a great way to interact with neighbors and let kids burn off excess energy, too. Cats do not need as much exercise as dogs, but they do like to play with indoor toys and can be quite rambunctious. Fish or other animal companions can be just as relaxing to have around as they lower blood pressure and decrease stress. Lots of people connect on social media with people who share an affinity for the same types of animals, whether it is a certain breed of animal or some other connection to that pet.
Petting a cat or dog simply feels great. It helps the body relax and bring a sense of peace when the world feels chaotic. Those who struggle with mental health disorders or anxiety disorders often find pets are their first choice of a friend when it seems the rest of the world is quite intimidating to deal with daily. Pets are often willing participants in lounging around, being active, or really mirroring the person’s life with whom they reside.
One of the unintended health benefits of pet ownership is finding a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Health crises, mental health disorders, or other similar issues can be daunting and exhausting. People with addiction in recovery often struggle with self-esteem issues or wrestle with how to engage with new sets of friends because the ones they left behind are still stuck in addiction. Having a pet can teach responsibility and accountability as well as provide companionship. A sense of belonging and meaning is key to helping people find a sense of control in their lives that may be missing at work or their personal lives. When a person feels their life has inherent meaning or purpose, they are more likely to feel more hopeful about the future, thus improving their mental health, overall outlook on life, and a general sense of well-being. The body often follows the brain’s energy in that if the mind is feeling more aligned and at ease, the body may relax and allow space to heal and feel at rest.
Pets as Therapists
Friends are not always sure how to say the right thing to a person who is grieving. Perhaps they lost a mutual friend, spouse, or someone close to them and it seems nobody really understands how they feel. Pets often have a way of understanding and engaging with grief in their own quiet way. In a way, it can be like having a therapist right there with you. There are therapists who incorporate animals into sessions to support people through difficult times. Animals are intuitive creatures who often practice presence better than humans can at a difficult time in people’s lives. There is comfort in knowing someone else gets it and is just there to give them solace. Sometimes that is really the best therapy of all, is knowing someone else is there to walk through life with together.
When you are struggling with life’s ups and downs or just need a boost, BetterHelp is here to support you in finding therapists and mental health advice.
About: Beth Orchard is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago and Bond University, Queensland, Australia with a Master’s in Criminology, focus on Social Justice and Community Development. She is a mother of two, writer, bibliovore, and adventure seeker of the path less taken. She volunteers and advocates for adults and children with congenital genetic anomalies as well as supporting men, women, and families to seek better overall mental, physical, and spiritual health.