Pets are Good for your Mental Health – Combat Stress, Depression, Anxiety, and Fear

Every time I come home from work, I can always expect the same greeting each time.  My Golden Retriever walks over to me with her tail wagging, as happy as a dog can be.  It doesn’t matter if I come home happy, sad, upset, worried, or angry.  She’s always there and has been either a reinforcement of my good mood or a therapeutic presence when I’m experiencing negative emotions.  I remember a few months ago when I was having a particularly difficult day.  I came home crying and was mentally exhausted.  I sat down and my dog walks over to me and puts her chin down on my lap.  She then looks at me with her deep brown eyes, immediately comforting me without words, but simply with her calming presence.

The research speaks for itself.  Studies suggest that having pets can have positive mental and physical health effects.  Pets can relieve stress and manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fear.  Three experiments were conducted at Miami University and Saint Louis University, examining the potential benefits of pet ownership.

Lead researcher, Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University in Ohio said, “We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions.  Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

Now if you are afraid of animals, have allergic reactions, or do not have the resources of time and money to get a pet, I am in no way trying to convince you to get a pet.  Owning a pet is not for everyone.  However, with many people, pet ownership reaps benefits in many ways.  In my experience and clients I worked with who have symptoms of depression or anxiety, here were a few reasons we found pet companionship to be helpful:

 

  • Pets Can’t Give Unwanted Advice

We’ve all been there where we tell somebody about our bad day and hear the infamous replies, “You think that’s bad?  Wait until you hear what happened to me,” or, “Suck it up.  Life’s hard.”  Some clients talk to their pets and like the fact that their pets are there just to be there for them and not judge what they are feeling.

 

  • Healing Through Physical Touch

I once had a client who cried for over an hour, while holding her dog in her arms.  The dog just stayed in her arms without trying to move away from her.  My client expressed how good it felt to just hold onto her pet while going through her distressing experience.

 

  • Sometimes People Are Just Too Busy

Can you recall a time when you just needed to talk and get all your feelings out there but everyone you knew was just too busy?  Pets can’t tell you that they have to go to work, have to take care of their sick children, or have a big test to study for.  They’re always there for you.

 

Pet ownership has been a blessing in many ways for myself and many clients I have worked with.  If you like pets but are unable to own one due to money, time, or housing restrictions, there are other options to at least have some face-to-face interactions with pets.  One option could be asking a neighbor, friend or family member to do some pet-sitting for their furry loved ones.  You could also look into volunteering at a local animal shelter.  Volunteering at an animal shelter would provide benefits to both you and the animals waiting for adoption.

 

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