If you feel like you struggle with your mental health, it can be overwhelming.
Mental health encompasses your psychological and emotional well-being.
You can lead a more productive, happy, and healthy life when you have good mental health.
If you have a mental health disorder or deal with extreme stress, you might look for lifestyle changes you can make to improve your symptoms.
These lifestyle changes could be things you do independently, or you might rely on these strategies along with medication and therapy.
A pet is one thing to add to your life that can improve your mental health, reduce stress, and make you feel happier and more fulfilled overall.
We explore how having a dog or cat and mental health relate to one another and what you should know about the benefits of pet ownership in general.
The Benefits of Pets
You may hear pet owners tell you about the joy that comes with having animals in their life.
Along with anecdotal stories about the joy of pets, we increasingly see scientific research that backs up this idea.
Pets are very in-tune with our emotions and behaviors as humans.
As an example, studies have shown dogs can understand the words we say, but they can also interpret body language, energy, tone of voice, and other cues coming from the humans around them.
Dogs and other pets can often gauge how you feel emotionally at any given time.
Having a pet can improve your mental health and your physical health, particularly a cat or a dog.
Pets are great for children’s emotional, psychological and physical well-being, and they are great companions for older people.
Pets and Mental Health
As far as mental health specifically, the following are benefits of pets:
1. Pets Can Reduce Stress
When you interact with an animal, research shows us that it decreases levels of cortisol.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. Animal interactions can also lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure often occurs along with stress.
Some employers now offer the opportunity to bring pets into the office to help employees better manage workplace stress.
Interacting with a pet, and especially a dog can increase oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that makes us feel good.
When you are with an animal, it can lower your blood pressure, which is a good stress reducer.
2. Pets Can Help with Stress and Anxiety
In many of the same ways a pet can help with stress, they can also help with anxiety.
Playing with an animal can increase dopamine levels and serotonin. These are calming, relaxing neurotransmitters.
When you have a pet, you also remember to live in the moment more than you would otherwise.
If you struggle with anxiety, you might focus on the past or the future instead of the present.
Animals don’t think about those things.
Animals are about what’s happening right at that very moment, and that can pull you back into the present.
3. Having a Pet Can Provide You with Companionship
The benefits of pets for depression and anxiety often stem from the companionship they provide.
When you have companionship, it is a general booster of mental health.
Companionship reduces loneliness and isolation, which are both things that can trigger symptoms of depression.
Through pet ownership, it’s also possible to meet new people.
For example, if you take your dog to cafes or dog parks, you can meet other pet owners.
When you take your pet out and about, it’s encouraging you to step outside your social comfort zone, use your social skills and interact with others.
4. Being a Pet Owner Helps You Feel Needed and Valued
When you have a pet, it gives you someone to think about and care for other than yourself.
A sense of responsibility and knowing that your pet needs you are good for your mental health.
Human-animal interaction is a wonderful thing, and if you’re looking for purpose or joy the unconditional love that comes with owning a pet is very therapeutic.
As part of caring for a pet, you have to structure your day.
For example, if you have a dog, they will need feeding and regular walks. When you have a set routine, it’s beneficial for your mood.
5. A Pet Can Help You Stay Active
Pets and mental health are positively associated because you may find that you are more active.
When you have a dog especially, it will need regular walks and time outside.
Dog owners will be active as a result of walking a dog, and physical activity can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illness.
Pets and Mental Health in Older People
There are mental health benefits from having a pet around, no matter your age, but it can be especially beneficial.
As you get older, you might lose some of those things that gave you structure and purpose.
For example, you might retire, so you no longer go to work every day, or your children could move away.
When you care for a pet, it can replace that sense of purpose and responsibility.
When you are older and have a pet, it can help you maintain a social network and stay connected to the world around you.
Having pets encourages you to exercise and laugh, and they may even make your immune system stronger.
Pets and Mental Health in Children
The benefits of pets for depression and anxiety extend to children as well as adults.
Benefits of pets for children include:
- Children may feel more secure when their pet is around. Having a pet can help children with separation anxiety as a result.
- Your child may develop higher self-esteem and a better self-image when they love and help care for a pet.
- If your child has an emotional attachment to a pet, they may be better able to build relationships with people.
- There have been many studies showing the benefits of pets for children who display signs of aggression or hyperactivity.
- Pets can teach your child empathy.
- Playing with an animal stimulates a child’s imagination and can promote learning.
The Commitment of Pet Ownership
While there are so many useful links between pets and mental health, you have to be aware of the responsibility and commitment.
Keep the following in mind:
- Pets can be expensive. There are vet bills, boarding fees, food, and grooming costs to think about, for example. If you have a fixed income or your budget is limited, be mindful of the costs of having a pet.
- Are you ready to dedicate the time and energy a pet will need?
- You will have to take on quite a bit of responsibility, and you may have to give up other things in your life. For example, you can’t leave your pet at home all day long without anyone to care for him.
Overall, there are significant benefits of having a pet for your mental health and even if your physical health.
You have to weigh the pros and cons, as is the case with any decision, but ultimately a pet can give you a mood and mental health boost.
For other treatment options, or to discuss getting involved in a program for any mental health concerns, contact the team at the Mental Health Center of San Diego at (858) 258-9883.
Our clinical team can work with any range of mental health issues, helping you is our passion.