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5 Ways Pets Can Boost Your Mental Health

If you are a “pet person” then it will come as no surprise that having pets can really be beneficial and happiness to our lives. Pets are very common in our lives. An estimated 68% of U.S. households have pets and 95% of those pet owners consider their pet a part of their family, which indicates the strong bond that pets create. Research shows us that pets can add a number of helpful elements to our lives, both physically and mentally.

For this reason, pets are often used as service animals or emotional support animals for a variety of disabilities and illnesses. Not only are certain animals capable of being trained to assist with physical and mobility needs, but many animals are highly in tune to how we are feeling and our emotional state, which means they also greatly assist with emotional and mental health needs.

Mental Health Benefits of Owning Pets: 

1. Meaning: 

Pet ownership can add so much meaning and fulfillment to our lives. They give us responsibility and something to care for. Many families add pets to their lives for the purpose of teaching responsibility to children and other family members. Pets can add so much meaning to our lives as well as prompt us to participate in pet driven activities, which can be very positive. Some of these activities may include daily walks, trips to the dog park or other outdoor activities such as hiking and visits to the park. Therefore, pets can motivate us to engage in positive physical activities outdoors as well as provide social opportunities with other pet owners.


2. Companionship: 

Pets can help to combat loneliness. Surprisingly, just the presence of having a pet nearby can decrease loneliness and helps to make us feel that someone or something is close by. This presence can help people feel less lonely in general. Also, along with meaning, pets can get us outdoors, active and engaged, which obviously reduces feelings of loneliness and adds more opportunities for social experiences. 


3. Loyalty: 

Similar to companionship, pets also bring loyalty. Many people may have fears related to trusting another human being because they are scared of being rejected, hurt or even abandoned. Pets are loyal companions who want to spend their time right by our side, which can be very helpful for someone who maybe struggling with these issues. Just in general, having that loyal companion can add more fulfillment and a sense of love to our lives.  


4. Emotional Awareness: 

Pets are very in tune and sensitive to our feelings. Often, pets can sense when we are feeling down or bad and they can curl up right next to us to offer support. This ability that pets naturally have, is similar to mindfulness. Pets are very present in the moment and put their full attention to you in the present moment. This experience can be very helpful to their human counterpart by teaching us to also be mindful, in the moment as well as reduce stress and be more in tune to our emotional state. Studies have shown that pets can increase our serotonin levels, which can help ward off depression and improve overall mood. For this reason, pets are commonly used for mental health and emotional support. 


5. Relaxation: 

Research shows us that the simple act of petting an animal can be meditative and relaxing. This is one of the reasons many service animals are taken into hospital units to provide a calm experience for the patient that will promote positive emotional and mental health as well as physical healing. Specifically, the various studies on stress reduction and pet ownership show us that this lower stress can lead to a healthier heart. The results showed lower rates of heart disease and lower blood pressure. Also, the simple tactile act of petting your cat or dog can increase a relaxation hormone and lower the stress hormone cortisol, which lowers overall stress levels and increases relaxation.

Blog written by: Dr. Shelley Sommerfeldt, Clinical Psychologist, Relationship Coach & Founder of the Loving Roots Project, an online wellness practice specializing in personal growth, mental wellness, & relationship betterment.

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