August is both National Dog Month and National Wellness Month. To recognize both of these important months, we thought it was perfect to point out all of the positive impacts that pets can have on our lives.
So, you’ve finally gotten a chance to slow down and enjoy all the hard work you’ve put in. You can relax and “smell the roses,” as they say. But instead of feeling a sense of relief and accomplishment, you start feeling antsy. Maybe you’re bored, or maybe you feel a bit isolated from all the things that used to make up your day. You can feel this wearing on your mental health. And perhaps you think you’re alone in this. Fear not - it’s a common difficulty many of us experience. In fact, according to the CDC, mental health concerns impact about 20% of people over the age of 55.
There are also many different ways to combat mental health concerns, and one of them is by caring for a pet. Studies have shown that pets can provide huge mental health benefits for their human companions, such as stress relief by releasing serotonin in the brain (which boosts your mood and helps regulate sleep). Let’s take a look at some of the key benefits that caring for pets can have on mental health.
Increased Physical Activity
Caring for an animal, especially a dog, often encourages increased physical activity. Dog owners typically need to take their dog for one to two walks per day, helping them get outdoors and into the fresh air. Getting regular exercise has been proven to have significant positive effects on mental well being and helps increase energy levels, focuses the mind, reduces stress and anxiety, releases tension, and much more. These all contribute to positive mental health.
Not a dog person? That’s okay, caring for any pet can offer increased physical activity you wouldn’t normally get, whether that’s getting them food, playing with them, or grooming them regularly (which can be especially good for dexterity). Physical activity can take many different forms, and caring for a pet can make those activities fun and meaningful.
A clear upside to caring for a pet is companionship, and its benefits shouldn’t be overlooked. It can be so easy for us to feel lonely, which can be a major factor in mental health concerns. A pet can offer the companionship we need to feel less detached from the world.
Pets offer friendship and love, and they can be a great source of happiness and joy. Pets can make your home feel full of life and less empty on a daily basis. They also provide meaningful interactions with a companion who needs your love and care. Maybe you’re the type of person who loves talking to their pets, or maybe you just like playing with them. Either way, caring for a pet gives you a way to express and feel love, and to feel needed, which is so important to all of us.
Speaking of feeling needed, purpose is another huge benefit that caring for a pet can have on mental health. Taking care of a pet and knowing that they need you can offer a vital sense of purpose in our lives. It helps make us feel important and valuable, which of course we are!
Caring for animals that need us is good for them and good for us. Caring for pets also helps create structure and routine in our lives, which offers a further sense of purpose and meaning, increasing our self-confidence. Caring for a pet can make us feel more grounded in the world, knowing we’ve done something important with our day. A lack of purpose can wreak havoc on mental health, increasing stress and anxiety. A furry or feathered friend can be a much-needed remedy to that.
Reducing stress and anxiety
We all need physical contact. Whether it’s a hug from a friend or family member, or the embrace of a partner, our skin craves touch. The physical contact that comes from pets, while not replacing human touch, can provide regular physical contact and help reduce stress and anxiety.
Studies show that pet owners have lower rates of cardiovascular complications than those without. In fact, just being in the presence of a pet can ease stress and reduce anxiety. They can also help fight depression and be a source of calm for people with dementia. The love we get from pets is unconditional and thorough - perhaps that’s why further studies show that physical contact with dogs increases feelings of trust and love, while lowering feelings of stress. It’s a win-win!
We know not everyone is a pet person. If so, a pet may not be for you (though, we often hear stories about people who claim they aren’t pet people that have a change of heart after they get to know a pet). But for those of us that are pet people, especially if you’re someone looking for a way to boost your mental health, caring for a pet can offer a number of wonderful and important benefits.
As individuals, our needs vary, and pets can be a reprieve for a variety of different struggles or demands - from companionship to exercise. That being said, becoming a pet owner can be a huge commitment, financially and physically.
If getting a pet of your own is more than what you’re looking for, there are other options! You can volunteer at a shelter if you don’t have the capacity to keep a pet at your home, or you can offer to pet sit for friends and family. There are even programs that bring pets around to senior living communities. So, reach out and find a pet to care for. It’s good for you, and it’s good for them.