Many people often talk about the benefits that they feel from keeping pets, but are there actually any direct links between our animal friends and mental health? The bond between animals and people has always been strong, and no matter how old we are, people of all age can feel the perks of spending time around animals. Pets can reduce mental health problems, alleviate stress and provide companionship for lonely people. Here are seven things to know about pets and mental health.
1: They Reduce Stress
A recent study carried out by Washington University has shown that petting a cat or a dog for just 10 minutes can reduce stress levels. And it’s not just cats and dogs which can help to lower stress levels. Watching an aquarium has also been proven to reduce people’s heart rates and anxiety levels. Studies carried out in the 80’s showed that watching an aquarium helped to reduce anxiety levels by up to 12%. Another studied carried out more recently by Plymouth University and the University of Exeter found that watching fish swimming around in aquariums “led to noticeable reductions in participants blood pressure and heart rate.”
2: Pets Help to Build Habits
Having a pet forces you to get into good routines, which make a great difference for people who have mental health problems. Often people who are struggling with mental health won’t have a routine and can become quite reclusive. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating cycle because the less you do the less energy you’ll have. Routines can help to battle depression. Having a certain time which you need to wake up and take your dog for a walk, feed them and take them to classes will help people develop their own routines.
3: Pets Reduce Childhood Anxiety
Prevention is much better than cure, so if we can find a way to raise healthy and happy children, they’ll be less likely to develop mental health illnesses as they reach adulthood. Keeping a pet reduces anxiety in children, as well as giving them other physical benefits, such as being more active through playing with and walking a dog. Children who grow up with pets stand a much better chance at developing into happy and healthy young adults.
4: Pets Increase Self-Esteem
A study carried out by Miami University found than people who owned a pet had higher levels of self-esteem than those who don’t own a pet. While low self-esteem isn’t a mental illness in itself, there are links between people’s confidence and how they think about themselves, and mental health. Building self-esteem is crucial for a positive and happier life. A great way to build self-esteem is to feel loved and accepted, and pets can certainly offer that to their owners.
5: Pet’s Help People to Practice Mindfulness
When you’re spending time with your pet, they seem to have the ability to get rid of all your worries and make it seem like nothing else matters. This is most likely because we are able to be so present and in the moment when we’re talking to and interacting with our pets. When you’re spending time living right in the moment, you don’t have the time to worry about the past or the future. Mindfulness allows people to manage their thoughts and feelings, and therefore helps people to look after their mental health.
6: Pets Support Mental Health Recovery
Researchers have found that keeping a pet can help people to recover from mental health conditions. These pets aren’t limited to fluffy animals which we can stroke, but also birds and fish. Pets help to distract people from their mental health conditions, which allows them to live a more normal life and get on the right path to recovery. Having a pet helps to give people a sense of purpose, a routine, and a sense of being in control. Pets can provide people with unconditional love which is priceless.
7: The Provide Companionship for Lonely People
People feel more needed and wanted when they have a pet that is relying on them for care. When someone who is depressed or has another mental health disability is given the responsibility of caring or another living being, it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a cat or a dog, or even a tank full of fish. Whether the pet can actually interact with their owner is irrelevant. A study in which people suffering with depression were given some crickets, found that after eight weeks, the controlled group who were caring for the crickets were actually less depressed.
The links between keeping a pet and mental health are evident. Pets can help to reduce stress levels and encourage independence and self-esteem. If you are suffering with a mental health illness, or know of someone who is, perhaps you should consider a pet!