A Helping Paw: How a Pet Can Improve Mental Health
Author: Cindy Aldridge (OurDogFriends.org)
Pets may be the closest thing to magic this world has. These cute, lovable companions can help turn a bad day around and they can literally reduce stress in humans. And while there’s no magic cure for mental illness, adopting a furry friend may just help you improve your mental health. Here’s how…
Pets teach you to be mindful.
You know how dogs act like they are never going to see them again when their human leaves the house? Okay, it’s a sad visual, but it’s a pretty good illustration of how pets truly live in the moment (as in, they can’t even comprehend that their human will be back in the future).
Pets teach us to live in the now. Mindfulness teaches us to deal with thoughts and feelings in a more healthy, productive way. And pets serve as more than a good example-- they help you practice mindfulness as well. Spending a few minutes watching your dog act like a doofus or marveling at how pretty your kitty is can take your mind of the things that bog you down.
Pets are the best listeners.
Often, people struggling with mental illness feel the need to verbally express how they’re feeling but are afraid to open up to people because they don’t want to be judged or bum anyone out. With a pet, you can sit down and vent all your insecurities and frustrations and they will just sit there and listen. They don’t judge you and as long as they’re spending time with their human, they aren’t going to be bummed out. However, if you go on a particularly long express fest, it wouldn’t hurt to give them a little treat to show your gratitude.
Pets get you moving.
Exercise can seriously help improve your mental health. It helps you let off steam and increases feel-good endorphins in the brain. Having a dog helps motivate you to get off the couch and get outside for a walk. Or if you are a cat person, maybe break out the mat for a session of kitty yoga in the living room (yes, it’s a real thing!). Whatever your activity, make it a habit as physical activity makes you less susceptible to mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and addiction.
Pets make you less lonely.
They don’t call dogs “man’s best friend” for nothing. And despite stereotypes, a study published by Oregon State University states that your cat would rather spend time with you than anything else. Suffice to say, adding a pet to your home can reduce the feelings of loneliness that often accompany mental health issues.
And it’s not just at home-- having pets can help you become more social with people as well. Taking your pup to the park gives you the chance to meet and chat with other dog lovers. And somehow cat people always find each other in social situations. Soon you could be one of those people obsessively pulling out your phone to show pictures of your furry friend to that stranger you just met… it’s quite the ice breaker!
When dealing with mental illness, it’s important to talk to your doctor and follow their professional, medical advice. However, if you’re already on the road to recovery but you are looking for a little boost to help you out, adopting a pet is a great idea. Pets help you live in the moment and are the perfect set of ears to vent your worries to. They help you become more physically active, which is proven to improve mental health as well. Finally, they are your constant companion that make you less lonely at home and help facilitate outside socialization as well.
Author a Yorkie Lover!