Paws and Peace: The Impact of Pets on Mental Health and Emotional Balance
Written by: Sabeeha Azmi
As the world we live in today is often fast-paced and stressful, maintaining one’s mental health and well-being is quite important. As we scour the internet, we are met with a myriad of strategies to improve our mental and emotional balance. One such strategy that is emerging as a natural and powerful remedy is the companionship and unconditional love offered by our pets. There have been several scientific studies (Bao & Schreer, 2016; Brooks et al., 2016; Hussein et al., 2021) and personal stories that display the positive impacts that pets contribute to our mental health, making them more than just our furry or feathery friends.
The bond that is created between humans and their pets is a unique relationship. Whether one is surrounded by the purring of a cat, the enthusiastic tail-wagging of a dog, or even the chirps of a bird, the presence of a pet can induce a sense of calmness and comfort. When we interact with our pets, our bodies release a hormone called oxytocin that is associated with bonding and aids in reducing stress levels. Even the simple action of petting or holding our pets can evoke a cascade of positive physiological responses which can help bring down levels of anxiety and stress.
Routines that we carry out for the care of our pets, such as feeding, cleaning, organising their space, walking, and playing with them can provide one with structure, effectively diverting attention and focus away from daily stressors and onto something more fulfilling. The responsibility that comes with caring for pets can foster a sense of purpose and encourage individuals to engage in daily activities even when they might be feeling down. Social aspects of owning a pet such as going to dog parks or cat cafes and other pet-related events, can even facilitate human-to-human connections. In addition to this, when we get physically involved in caring for our pets, our body promotes the release of endorphins which are natural mood enhancers contributing to a more positive mental and emotional state.
For those individuals who have severe anxiety disorders or other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder, the calming presence of a pet can be a source of solace. There are animals with a strong intuitive nature that allows them to sense changes in their owner’s moods and behaviour and respond with empathy and support. Pets offer non-judgmental and unwavering support. Dogs, in particular, can be trained to provide emotional support to individuals.
Here are some tips to boost your mental health and emotional well-being through the companionship of pets:
Choosing the Right Pet: When looking to get a pet, consider your lifestyle, living situation, allergies, and personal preferences. Different animals will have different needs, and finding the right match for you can enhance the positive effects on your mental well-being.
Establish A Routine: Pets tend to thrive on routine and have a consistent time for feeding, playing, walking, etc. This can provide a sense of structure and stability for both you and your pet.
Exercising Together: Regular exercise is greatly beneficial for your mental health and can be a boost for your pet’s health as well. So put on some comfortable shoes and engage in physical activities with your pets such as walking, playing, or even running.
Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation: Setting up a comfortable space for your pet where you can spend quality time with them, and focusing on the present moment can promote a sense of calmness and relaxation. Being mindful and present when grooming or even simply sitting together with your pet can help reduce stress levels.
Express Affection: Engage with your pet to show them love and affection through cuddling, petting, and even verbal communication. This reciprocal exchange of affection can evoke feelings of happiness and connection.
Within mental health, the therapeutic power of pets is greatly recognized and speaks volumes to the interconnectedness between humans and animals. The companionship, non-judgmental and unconditional love as well as the several positive physiological responses induced by pet interaction make pets a valuable addition to mental well-being strategies. Pets offer us a natural approach to developing emotional resilience and building purpose in our lives. As we navigate our stressful lives, the paws, the claws, the feathers, and the fur of our pets continue to leave their prints on our hearts and minds.