It has long been known that animals can have an extraordinarily positive effect on our mental health.
In fact, people who have pets tend to live longer than those without. Think of all the places where dogs and cats make an appearance just to make us feel better: hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and even sporting events.
We have always known that the human animal relationship is mutually beneficial. We love our pets and take excellent care of them, and in turn, they offer us not only unconditional love but countless health benefits.
Simply petting our cat or dog releases all sorts of “feel-good” chemicals in our brains, lowering our heart rate and giving us a warm, pleasant feeling. Taking care of and loving an animal can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, help ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve cardiovascular health.
Now that we are all spending much more time at home, perhaps more than ever before, the importance of our animals in our daily lives cannot be overstated. Far from just being our “pets”, our animal friends have suddenly become our company, our coworkers, and our comfort.
In general, having an animal in the home is good for our psychological wellbeing. They provide companionship, give our lives purpose and routine, and shower us with unconditional love.
In times of crisis, these benefits are amplified. As people shelter in their homes and practice social distancing to help stall the spread of COVID-19, their social circles have greatly diminished. In fact, for many people, their dog is the only company they have had during the past few months!
Some of the benefits of pet ownership are rather concrete. Dog owners, for example, have had more time outside than pretty much anyone else during the coronavirus health crisis. Because they need to be walked, it gives dog owners the perfect excuse to get outside for a little while multiple times a day. Not only does this offer some much-needed fresh air and (hopefully!) sunshine, but it is a great opportunity to get some exercise.
Even during normal circumstances, dog owners benefit from their daily dog walking routine. Dogs also bring people together. Many dog owners befriend other dog owners when they’re outside on the street or at dog parks, and all of that provides ample opportunity for socialization.
But not all the emotional benefits are so obvious. Cats do not need to be walked, and they aren’t always as demonstrative as dogs, but studies show that petting a cat can lower your blood pressure and causes your brain to release hormones that promote a sense of calm, wellbeing, and happiness.
A study conducted in Tel Aviv gathered a group of people who were feeling stressed and asked them to “pet” a variety of things, both objects such as toys and living creatures such as rabbits and turtles. The scientists measured their stress and anxiety levels beforehand. The individuals who were assigned animals to pet, rather than the plastic toys, found that their stress and anxiety levels visibly decreased. Those who pet the toys received no such benefit.
So, it is not so much the act of petting something that helps humans feel better, it’s the interaction with a fellow living creature.
If random animals in a scientific study can help people reduce their stress and anxiety levels, imagine how powerful it is to spend time with and pet an animal with whom you have a relationship. The act of caring for a living creature makes all the difference.
During the pandemic, pets are more important than ever before. Having an animal in the home means we always have amiable company. Those who own dogs have an excuse to get outside, and those with cats can relax at the end of the day and pet their stress away.
So, take time to thank your pet!
The immeasurable joy and comfort they offer us is incalculable, and it is possible that they’re helping us more than we can possibly imagine.
To read the referenced Tel Aviv study click here!
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