The Mental Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

March 21, 2017

By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor

We live in a society where we are increasingly challenged by stress, as the levels of national stress in America continue to rise. According to the American Psychological Association, 75% of adults have reported that at some point over the last month they have experienced moderate to high levels of stress whilst the American Institute of Stress have found that 80% of workers feel stress in their workplace, and struggle to control that stress. There are many ways in which you can learn to control your stress, and many different techniques you can adopt to help you reduce your levels of stress within the workplace. However, the simple companionship offered by a pet, such as a dog or cat, is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety when you return home each evening. Here are just some of the mental health benefits of pet ownership:

Dogs Force You to Get Outside

From a physical health point of view, owning a dog forces you to get outside in the fresh air and enjoy some exercise, because dogs love to be walked at least once a day. Given that regular exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on levels of depression, stress and anxiety, this physical health benefit will quickly serve double duty as a mental health benefit too. Exercise elevates your mood, and exercising outside will increase your exposure to the health-boosting vitamin D in the sunshine, which can help prevent conditions such as depression, cancer, obesity, and heart disease. When you are outside with your pet, why not use this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness: to enjoy the nature around you and focus on the calming environment you find yourself in?

Pets Help you Relax

For those suffering from depression and other depression-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) research has found that pet ownership has proved particularly beneficial, and many veterans returning to the US with PTSD are now routinely being offered forms of animal and in particular canine therapy to help them treat their conditions. The rhythmic petting and stroking of an animal forms a bond between the two of you and helps you to relax by releasing oxytocin. This is a hormone which is related to stress and anxiety relieve, which is why it proves so useful in PTSD treatment, and which can help to reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels in everyone, making stroking a pet you have a bond with a great natural stress reliever, and one that you can enjoy daily.

You’ll Never Be Lonely

Pets present a constant form of companionship, helping to alleviate any feelings of loneliness, particularly if you live alone. What’s more, pets are great listeners and provide a sounding board in which you can remove the stress of your day by talking about it. You can talk to your pet about anything, without fear or repercussions or loose lips sharing your secrets with others, and that can be very comforting if you’re struggling with stress or anxiety and want to share your thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. If you live alone then a pet gives you someone to share the routine of daily life with, and can help to give you an anchor in the world: someone who will both depend on you and love you unconditionally. Of course, the only negative aspect of pet ownership is that their lifespan isn't as long as ours, and even with the right food and exercise schedule, regular vet visits and the protection of a decent pet insurance policy, you are still likely to outlive your pet and have to grieve for him. However the joy that pets bring into our lives mean that, for most people, this return to loneliness when they pass is worth the sacrifice. 

Pets Make You Playful

When was the last time you played a game of hide and seek or tossed a frisbee? Owning a pet gives you the perfect excuse to play, to laugh, and to act like a child again! You’ll love the interaction, and your pet will love you forever for the undivided attention you are giving to him: it will also help improve your long-term bond and connection with each other. Laughter releases serotonin and dopamine, which are both mood enhancing hormones that can help alleviate stress and depression. Dancing with your dog, watching him wrestle with a bone or roll around chasing his own tail are all sure to raise a smile and improve your overall mental wellbeing at the same time. 

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