Ways that Pets Help with Stress and Mental Health
People all over the world adore their pets. If you have ever owned one, you’ve likely experienced the loving companionship they provide. Pets can provide a great amount of comfort and happiness to their owners. In fact, owning a pet can help reduce stress and improve your mental health.
How Can A Pet Improve Someone’s Mental Health?
Pets are known to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. The companionship of having a pet to offer unconditional love and comfort helps relieve feelings of anxiety. Pets can help people feel less isolated and lonely, too. Pets lovingly stay by your side when you need them the most. They won’t judge or criticize you, and you can tell them anything.
People with mental health conditions often feel a lack of motivation or energy to keep up with everyday tasks and routines. Getting to work, exercising, and socializing with others are tasks that can feel daunting some days. Having a pet can provide a positive source of motivation in their owner’s life. Pets require routine care like feeding them every day and exercising them. When you center your day around your pet’s routine, it will add more structure to your day making it easier to keep up with a routine of your own. Routines can help add a sense of balance to your life. It can also give you a sense of achievement and purpose every time you get to care for your pet.
Having a pet can also instill motivation for getting out of the house and socializing with others. If you take a dog out for a walk, odds are several people will want to stop and say hi to you and your dog. If you participate in dog training classes, you’ll get the chance to socialize with other dog lovers there as well.
Physical Health Benefits
Other great health benefits to owning pets are:
- People with pets often have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets.
- Playing with a pet can increase your serotonin and dopamine levels, helping you feel happier and more relaxed.
- Pet owners usually have fewer indicators of heart disease, like lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels.
- Older people who own pets have fewer hospital visits than those without pets.
- Dog owners are more likely to meet daily exercise needs than those without dogs.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
Just as people with physical disabilities can have service animals to aid them, people with mental health conditions can receive aid and companionship from emotional support animals. An emotional support animal provides therapeutic benefits to people who suffer from mental health conditions. People with ESAs form close bonds with their pets and receive support and comfort from them. In order to have an animal registered as an ESA, the owner must have a diagnosis for a mental health condition. Once an animal is registered as an ESA, they are granted certain protections, like being allowed in a housing complex that would otherwise not allow pets.
There is often a stigma associated with ESAs. People with ESAs may feel judged or ashamed for having them. Many people who have ESAs experience judgment from others. There is still a stigma around mental health conditions, and some people don’t take mental health impairments as seriously as physical impairments. Some people are even confronted to prove that they have a “real” support dog, or even asked to prove they have a mental health condition. This stigma is extremely hurtful to those who need ESAs. If you have an ESA, do not let others invalidate your mental health conditions. You do not need to prove your health condition to others or feel ashamed for having a loving companion. Even if you do not have a diagnosable mental health condition, support animals are still beneficial to everyone’s mental health.
Is a Pet Right For You?
Pets are a taxing responsibility and commitment. Although they can be cute, you should not purchase a pet based on impulse alone. The decision to bring a pet into your life should be carefully considered. Pets require genuine love, time, energy, and money. If you have never owned a pet before, see if you can care for the pet of a friend or relative to help gauge if you are ready for that kind of commitment.
Here are some questions you will want to consider when getting a pet:
- Do you have space in your home for a pet?
- How active are you?
- How much time do you have to commit to a pet?
- Do you have the money to cover essential needs like food and vet bills?
- What kind of pet will fit your lifestyle?
- Are you allergic to any pets?
Most people assume they would need a dog or a cat as a support companion. Cats and dogs make great pets, but they aren’t the only options to consider. Dogs for example are much more high-maintenance than other pets, like guinea pigs or rabbits. Dogs crave constant attention and require ample space and exercise. A guinea pig can still offer cuddles and companionship, but unlike a dog, it can spend longer periods of alone time in a cage when you are not available to socialize. Guinea pigs even clean themselves, so you basically just have to feed them, change their bedding, and play with them.
Alternatives To Pet Ownership
If you have circumstances that do not allow you to have a pet, but you would still like to reap the benefits of spending time with animals, consider the following alternative to owning a pet:
- Volunteer at an animal shelter. Animal shelters are always looking for volunteers to help exercise, care for, and love the animals in their care. You will get the opportunity to help animals in need, and get to experience the joy that animals bring.
- Hang out with a friend or relative's pet. You probably know someone who has a pet. Ask them if you can take their pet for a walk, or come over and play with them. You can also volunteer to pet-sit for them when they need it.
- Signup for a pet sitter app. There are many different apps nowadays that allow you to connect with pet owners and offer a wide variety of services. You can walk dogs or pet sit for other pet owners. This way you get the benefits that being around animals brings some structure and responsibility, and some spending money.
If you feel you could use the additional support and benefits that pets bring to humans, take some time to thoughtfully consider if getting a pet would be right for you. Pets can help reduce your stress and improve your overall mental health. Even if the timing is off right now for acquiring a new pet, say hi and offer cuddles to the pets you do get the chance to be around. Even just petting puppies at your local pet store could be a huge mood booster.
Although pets can bolster your mental health and reinforce structure within your everyday routine, reaching out to specialists like those at Jackson House can get to the root of your daily struggles. If you’d like to discuss your mental health concerns, contact us today for a comprehensive and caring assessment from our staff and volunteers.
It's time to feel better
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If you’re a provider and need to send us information on a client, please feel free to fax us at 619-303-7044. If you need help immediately, call our 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-766-4274. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Jackson House is licensed by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and certified by the Department of Health Care Services. We are also CARF Accredited. If you have any client or quality of care concerns, please reach out to us at (888) 255-9280. If your concerns need further attention, you can contact the Department of Public Health at 619-278-3700 or the Community Care Licensing Division at 1-844-538-8766.