Since the onset of the pandemic, the importance of good mental health is emphasized everywhere you look. Unfortunately, COVID-19 resulted in many adverse mental health conditions. Ranging from job loss to lockdowns and fear of the unknown, it’s no wonder that the condition of mental health in America, and even around the world, is in a poor state.
But this is where pets come into the picture. Did you know that pets can help with a variety of mental health conditions? While they aren’t necessarily a replacement for medication or therapy, pets can help alleviate symptoms and provide comfort with mental health conditions.
First, let’s talk about some of the common mental health conditions where pets can offer help.
How do Pets Help with Mental Health? Focusing on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Stress isn’t necessarily a mental health condition, but chronic stress can bring significant strife to your life. Along with chronic stress comes depression and anxiety, which can worsen the symptoms of stress along with many other ailments that you will experience.
Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of people who experience anxiety, depression and stress. In fact, US adults are reporting some of the highest stress since the onset of the pandemic. According to the survey called Stress in America by the Harris Poll, 84% of adults polled reported feeling emotions relating to stress. Anxiety was another large contender, coming in at 47% of adults experiencing this symptom.
It’s no secret that America is anxious, stressed, and depressed. It’s estimated that 19.4 million adults, or roughly 8% of the population, have depression. In response to feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, a surge in pandemic pets emerged.
What are Pandemic Pets?
As society was in the trenches of COVID-19, many people chose to adopt a pet to help cope with the adverse mental health effects from quarantine, lockdowns, and not to mention job losses.
Last year, many of us did not get to spend time with our loved ones due to the pandemic and social distancing requirements. This left millions of Americans feeling lonely, coupled with the fact that they could not socialize as normal while working remotely. Pandemic pets were one of the positive aspects of this time period as pets who were otherwise in shelters were finally finding homes.
This showcases exactly how pets can help ease mental health conditions. But how specifically do they help?
6 Ways Pets Help with Mental Health
Are you feeling the stressors of life weighing you down? Do you struggle with symptoms from anxiety and depression? These are several ways our furry friends can help.
1. Pets Reduce Work-Related Stress
Stress in the workplace is nothing new. Over 80% of people experience some form of work-related stress. Whether you have a very demanding job or you are always on the clock, the good news is that a pet can help alleviate stress when it comes to work.
How do cats help with mental health in terms of stress coming from your job? There are several ways.
- If you are back in the office, a pet gives you a warm welcome home when you arrive at the door. The presence makes your home feel more comfortable and inviting.
- Tending to the needs of your pet helps you take your mind off work and away from stressful events.
- Taking your dog on a walk can help you get exercise and fresh air, especially if you work at a demanding desk job.
- Pets help increase productivity in the workplace. When pets join a Zoom call, it showcases that the employee is trustworthy and productive.
2. Pets Improve Your Mood
When it comes to alleviating symptoms of depression, Mental Health specialists say that there are many things you can do to help yourself feel better. For example, you can spend time outside, get some exercise, eat healthy food, and spend time with those that you love and Trust.
But did you know that pets are also able to help improve your overall mood? This happens for several reasons including:
- Interacting with pets is shown to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress. Too much cortisol can result in headaches, heart disease, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and weight gain. Cortisol can be the culprit of many mental health ailments as well as physical health.
- Interacting with the dog can increase endorphins as well as oxytocin and dopamine, which are all neurological chemicals that are associated with positive feelings and bonding. Not only does this chemical interaction affect the human brain, but it is also shown to affect dogs as well.
3. Pets Help Your Heart Health and Mental Health
Pets lower your blood pressure. According to Harvard Health, having a dog literally helps your heart. Having a pet such as a dog is linked to a decreased risk of developing cardiac disease.
The reason behind this is no coincidence. Dogs tend to help your heart health because they are more physically active. They want to run around and exercise, and also like to spend time outside.
Also not coincidentally, physical activity and spending outside can lead to improved mental health conditions. Exposure to sunlight can help with both anxiety and depression symptoms.
4. Pets Help You Socialize
If you have a dog and take it out for a walk, you may unsurprisingly draw a person or two to you. This is because people love pets, and they also love petting dogs. It gives you a break to talk about your dog. People may ask questions such as the type of breed of your dog.
In turn, pets can help you socialize. At the time of publishing of this blog, Delta is on the downfall of the surge. People are getting out more and spending time outside. This gives you the opportunity to make up for lost time when it comes to socializing.
5. Pets Help You Stay Calm and Relaxed
Remember how we talked about the neurological chemicals that are released when you spend time with a dog? One of those other chemicals is known as serotonin. Serotonin is believed to be a mood stabilizer that can also help promote relaxing feelings. It reduces depression and regulates anxiety.
With a cat or dog in the picture, serotonin is released in the brain. This can achieve calm and relaxing effects, especially when you are feeling stressed out and on edge. Serotonin is also associated with sleep levels, which is another way that pets can help improve your mental health.
6. Pets Help You Sleep Better
Do you sleep with a cat or dog? While this can be a controversial topic, many people in America sleep with a pet. In fact, over 70% of pet owners say that they allow their pets to sleep with them. Furthermore, 43% of those people allow their pets to sleep with them every night.
But what does sleeping with your cat or dog have to do with mental health? It has to do with sleep quality. Support animals can help diminish nightmares in PTSD patients. Sleeping with a dog is also especially beneficial for women. They don’t move much in the night and share similar sleep patterns. Even though dogs can help people sleep better, cats can also help as well.
Getting good quality sleep is essential for your mental health. In fact, sleep and mental health are very closely connected. Unfortunately, many of us are sleep-deprived. But chronic sleep problems and sleep deprivation can send your mental health into a spiraling downfall.
Meanwhile, sleep problems are notorious for people with anxiety, depression, and bipolar.
While sleeping with a pet can help improve your mental health, there are times when it doesn’t make sense to do so such as:
- Your dog or cat makes you too hot while you’re in bed
- Your pet is not potty trained
- You have an older dog or cat who has a hard time controlling their bowels
Thank Your Pet with Veterinarian Care
As you can see, there are many mental health benefits to owning a cat or dog. Meanwhile, you’ll want to make sure you give them the best life possible by:
- Giving them quality food and ensuring they don’t eat too much, which contributes to pet obesity
- Ensuring that they get plenty of exercise, especially for young puppies and active dog breeds such as labradors
- Be sure to spay or neuter your pet which can decrease the likelihood of developing cancer later in life
- Take your pet to the veterinarian annually for vaccines and blood work as needed
With great care at home and at the vet’s office, you can be sure that your cat or dog will provide you with many years of love, companionship, and much more.