You arrive home at the end of another busy day or take a break after a Zoom meeting that went way too long. Your furry friend greets you with enthusiasm: tail wagging and kisses galore. You sigh contentedly. Your anxiety level just dropped. Literally.
This is the power of your pet. Pets can give you a feeling of stability, continuity, and meaning in your life.
Science backs up what we already know to be true for us: our pets make us better people in so many ways.
Researchers at the Miami University in Ohio and St. Louis University performed three separate experiments on pets and their people. They found that “pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to have less loneliness, were more conscientious, were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”
What is the magic that your pet wields? How does it help you?
We are aware that pets can be the best companions. Where else can you get unconditional love and acceptance? Stroking your pet’s fur is known to reduce anxiety. Merely hearing your cat purr can also lower your anxiety and produce other health benefits.
Your relationship with your pet has direct physical effects. You will secrete more of the “feel-good” hormone, serotonin, and less of the “stress hormone,” cortisol. As a result, your blood pressure lowers, your heart rate drops, and your mood lifts. Bye, bye anxiety. The CDC adds that your relationship with a pet may affect you in the following ways:
decrease blood pressure
decrease cholesterol levels
decrease triglyceride levels
decrease feelings of loneliness
increase your socialization with others
increase your level of exercise and the time your spend outside
Having a pet can also help you to build relationships and to connect with people. Curious people may reach out and ask about your pet. This helps to bridge the gap and begin a conversation. Your pet will help you to have regular contact with others which may cause you to feel less loneliness.
If you have a pet, especially a dog, you may be inclined to get more exercise. Walking your dog is a form of moderately intense exercise. When you walk your dog regularly, you enjoy not only the exercise, but also weight control, increased muscle strength, and cardiovascular fitness.
From an emotional perspective, hanging out with your pets can help you to focus less on yourself and any mental wellness challenges you might have. It also serves to balance out your emotions. You may have a tendency to feel less anxious or upset. Researchers have found that a bond with your dog can be very similar to the parent-child bond by tripping those same neural pathways.
When you put your attention on your pet’s needs and care, it can even lessen your chronic pain. Our pet friends don’t take away our chronic pain, but caring for them naturally shifts our focus away from our pain and onto them. This behavior can help us to better manage our reaction to our chronic pain.
Your pet’s instinctual behavior can also be good cues for you. You, too, can reap the benefits of frequent stretching and getting enough rest to ease your chronic pain. Take a nap while your pet is napping!
Your pet just makes you feel good. When you cuddle with your pet, you release oxytocin, the neurochemical that helps us to bond and develop feelings of trust and love. Scientists have found that even your dog’s levels of oxytocin go up after a good cuddle session. Everyone wins.
Has reading all of these benefits of having a pet sparked your interest? What can you do next?
First, know that you are not alone. Shelters report a spike in pet adoptions and fostering recently.
Any kind of pet: cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, goldfish, and others can positively affect your mental wellness.
You will first want to do some research. Which pet will best fit with your lifestyle and family? What kind of time commitment are you willing to give to the pet you bring into your home? How big will the pet you desire one day become?
Here are a few other questions to consider:
How much will you spend on veterinary costs to maintain your pet’s health?
What type of living space does your pet need?
What level of exercise does your new pet require?
Are there kids or people with compromised immune systems in your family?
What does your pet eat, and can you provide that for them?
Talk with the workers at your local animal shelter or humane society. They would be happy to help you make the best decision so that you will choose a pet that will be the best fit for you.
The next time your dog licks your face or your cat jumps on your keyboard while you are working, thank them for all of the good they bring to your body and soul.
Counseling can help heal physical and emotional pain
You don’t need to feel lonely in working through your depression, anxiety, or gastric distress. Reach out today. I would be happy to offer you a free 15 minute consultation to talk about how we can work together to increase your quality of life and decrease your pain. You can reach me at 773-983-8444. If you are looking for help with GI distress and stomach pain you can read more about how I can help by clicking here.
Catherine provides Anxiety Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Hypnotherapy, and Relationship Therapy for women in Evanston and Chicago IL. For the pet lovers out there, she also provides Pet-Assisted Therapy. Catherine helps women who feel isolated, anxious, and overwhelmed in their lives to find more happiness, satisfaction, and self-acceptance. She also helps women manage and think differently about chronic pain, fibromyalgia, IBS, and other forms of GI distress.