I honestly don’t know what my family would do without our dog Bailey and our two cats Scout and Amber.
Whenever one of us is feeling sad, overlooked or just plain crabby, a few minutes with our friendly, loving animals help heal us. Just stroking Bailey’s velvety ears or gazing into her big brown eyes is a balm for the soul. Nothing eases our stress more than when one of the cats jumps up into our laps looking for love and settles in purring.
Owning a pet offers us companionship, laughs, and real motivation to get up in the morning, even when we’re not sure we’re up to the task. But did you know that pets are actually good for your mental and physical health? Here are 5 ways that having animal friends around can make a healing difference in your life.
- PETS REDUCE ANXIETY AND STRESS
Ever notice how soothing it is to listen to a cat purring or feel a dog curling up at your feet? A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that children who grow up with dogs are significantly less likely to show signs of stress. Another study showed that kids who regularly talked and played with their dogs had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their systems.
But the stress-relieving effects of pets are not limited to young children with canine friends. Another study found that riding and caring for horses helped reduce cortisol levels and ease stress in teenagers.
Seniors can benefit, too. In the delightful book Being Mortal, medical writer Atul Gawande tells the story of a nursing home administrator who brought 4 dogs, 2 cats and 100 parakeets into the lives of older residents. Researchers found that, over a 2-year period, residents needed less than half of the medications they had once taken to manage stress and agitation.
2. CARING FOR ANIMALS IS GOOD FOR OUR HEARTS
We know that a healthy diet and regular exercise will reduce our chances of developing heart disease. But having a pet helps keep your heart in great shape too.
A study released by the American Heart Association shows that owning a pet, especially a dog, can reduce risks for cardiovascular disease. In part, this might come from the extra exercise that dog owners get while walking their pets. In fact, pet owners are more than 50% likelier to meet physical activity guidelines as compared with the rest of us!
The study also showed that pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and lower risks for obesity – all good things when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart.
- PETS EASE LONELINESS AND KEEP US CLOSER TO OUR FELLOW HUMANS
Most pet owners have a close bond with their furry friends, with more than half of dog and cat owners saying they consider their pets to be members of the family. Studies show the pet-owner bond may also improve the way we relate to humans.
In one study, pet owners reported greater overall relationship quality and closeness with the people in their lives. Another study found that those who reported closeness with animals had greater community involvement and were more likely to be in a leadership role.
The unconditional love that pets offer is especially helpful in times of grief and loss. This moving article from the New York Times shares a personal story about the value a pet can have in alleviating loneliness when a loved one has passed.
- ANIMAL COMPANIONS ENHANCE OUR MENTAL HEALTH
Around 1 in 5 of all Americans live with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. While having a pet is not a cure-all, studies suggest that caring for animals helps ease mental health symptoms and even prevents specific issues.
Research shows that 60% of pet owners with mental health issues say their pets are helpful to them in managing their conditions. Those with pets reported a greater sense of control, as well as a feeling of security and routine.
Studies have shown that our animal friends can also help prevent depression, so much so that many organizations recognize animal-assisted therapy as an effective treatment for depression and other mental illnesses.
- PETS CAN HELP US SLEEP BETTER
Even though Fluffy may fight you for her share of the bed, she’s actually helping you get a better night’s sleep, according to one study.
Researchers found that 41 percent of pet owners who allowed their pets to sleep in the bedroom said that they did not find their pet disruptive. They also reported sleeping better, thanks to feelings of security, companionship, and relaxation that a pet brings.
FINDING PEACE OF MIND IN DIFFICULT TIMES
As a therapist working with adults of all ages Oak Park, I am here to support your health and well-being. If you need support in coping with stress, loneliness, depression or any other mental health issue, please get in touch with me today. Call me at 708-990-3867 or click here to request a confidential appointment.