11 Ways Pets Support Mental Health -- By Sharon Burch, APRN
The research is clear: There are many mental health benefits of owning a pet. Studies show that pets reduce stress, anxiety, and depression; they also ease loneliness. encourage exercise, and improve overall health. Playing with a pet has been shown to raise the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet. The bonds between humans and animals are powerful in bringing us joy, purpose, and unconditional love.
Interacting with Pets Lowers Our Stress Hormones: Playing with a pet reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine. These are hormones that calm and relax the nervous system. When we smile and laugh at our pets’ cute behavior, that helps stimulate the release of these “happiness hormones.”
Our Pets Make Us Feel Needed: Caring for another living thing gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. Doing something for the good of others reduces depression and loneliness.
Pets Increase Our Sense of Self-Esteem: Pet owners have better self-esteem and are happier, healthier, and better adjusted than non-owners.
Pets Show Us How to Be in the Moment: Pets don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow, so they can help people live in the present moment, too, and remember how to be playful and carefree.
Pets Support Recovery from Mental Illness: Cats, dogs, hamsters, finches, and even goldfish can help people manage their emotions, even in the presence of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Having pets gives people a stronger sense of identity, security, and distraction from symptoms like hearing voices, suicidal thoughts, or rumination.
Pets Help Us Build Healthy Habits: Pets need to be taken care of every day, so they help us build healthy habits and routines. Dog owners need to take their pets for walks, runs, and hikes regularly, so they get exercise and time in nature. Pets need to eat regularly, so they give people a reason to get up and start their day.
Our Pets Help Build Relationship Skills: Research shows that people who are emotionally attached to their pets have easier time building relationships. The confidence and skills they develop with their pets transfer to relationships with family and friends.
Pets Support Social Connection: Pets relieve social anxiety because they provide a common topic to talk about. The benefits of social connection include a happier, more optimistic outlook, stronger emotional regulation skills, improved cognitive function, and more empathy and feelings of trust toward others.
Pets Can Reduce Work-Related Stress. Studies show that pets in the workplace help reduce stress and improve employee satisfaction.
Pets Can Help Increase Productivity. When a pet joins a virtual meeting, group members rank their teammates higher on trust, team cohesion, and camaraderie.
Last But Not Least, Pets Give Us Unconditional Love: Dogs and cats love their owners unconditionally. Pets don’t judge us. They are simply happy to see us, and they want to spend time with us. This unconditional love is good for mental health and pleasure.
Sharon Burch, APRN, invites you to actively develop your mental health. If you would like Sharon’s help or support, contact the Atma Clinic. Your first (free) visit at 785/760-0695.