As parents, anxiety and stress often come with the package, especially before big and special events. It’s also relatively common for people when they are faced with new situations or something they may have a fear of. The good news is, one way to help you relax and soothe your nerves may already literally be laying at your feet!
That’s right, your pets and domestic animals can be great stress busters. Even better, sometimes you’re not even really consciously aware of how your pet’s presence may be helping you get through the tough times. In this article, we take a little look behind the scenes at some practical ways your pet may help your mental health.
How Having a Pet Can Calm Your Nerves
Pets Help You Think About Something Else
If you’re feeling anxious and stressed, a common tactic recommended by health professionals is to find a distraction or diversion to focus on. Call it dog diversion, cat deflection if you will, but the presence of your pet can help you re-frame your thinking away from the thoughts or the situation that is bothering you.
This can be particularly helpful for people with fears and phobias. If you’re anxious about being alone in the house, the presence of a pet with their super-sensitive radar to anything out of the ordinary will soon alert you if there actually is something or someone nearby. In the same token, if you have a fear of getting out and about, having a dog walk alongside you can help overcome those anxieties.
Pets Make You Move Around
Exercise is good for both our minds and body. Most of us already know that. What we often don’t realize is that even the very basic act of taking care of feeding your pet forces you to move your body. Combine a few yoga stretches when you’re reaching into the cupboard, or placing your pet’s bowl on the floor and it’s a win-win mind-body situation for both of you.
If you’ve got a dog, no matter what size, they’re going to need regular exercise. Likewise, a cat, even though we tend to think they look after this themselves, a piece of paper on the end of a string can help you both move and entertain yourself at the same time. Take their cue. Many pets instinctively know when it’s time to get moving (aka the cat crazies!). Take the time to get a little exercise at the same time your pet does, and you’ll reap the rewards.
Pets Help You Relax
Pets can help you relax in so many ways. There’s the physical act of stroking and patting an animal. This is a repetitive motion that both of you will are likely to find very, very soothing. There’s the humor in seeing your pet do something that is so outside of the behavior that we are conditioned into as humans that you can’t help but laugh. If you’ve ever clicked on any funny dog/cat/rabbit videos online, and who hasn’t, you’ll know what we mean.
Pets Can Help You Love
The love and companionship of a pet are unconditional. Their affection for you is based on knowing you treat them well and love them to bits. The look that a pet may give you, with soft knowing eyes full of love, believe it. It’s real. Studies have found that the same bonding process and endorphins that are firing between a parent and child happen between people and their pets. So yes, it is indeed mutual. Both you and your pet feel the love, and more relaxed and warm and fuzzy as a result!
Pets Help Lower Your Blood Pressure
Studies have shown that people with pets tend to have lower blood pressure. That’s got to be good news for anyone whose blood pressure potentially rises with their anxiety and stress levels. Even better, just your pet’s presence helps with healthier blood pressure. Anytime you do pat, stroke, or get in some daily exercise with your pet is an added bonus for your BP.
Pets are Social and Emotional Support
As many pet people will attest, a pet often intuitively and instinctively seems to pick up on when you are out of sorts. They may seek to reassure you or keep their distance. Both of which can be a good indication that you need to address your anxiety levels.
People who love animals also usually consider pets as a part of their family. If you’re feeling a little disconnected with other people, it is entirely possible to have a close connection with your pet and know that you’re not alone. The friendship of a cat curled up on your lap, or a dog by your side can do wonders to help with any worries around loneliness or isolation.
Pets Are Good Listeners
Did you know that there are therapy animals that help kids and adults with reading difficulties? There are many schools and libraries that recognize that the quiet non-judgmental presence of reading to an animal can help people with learning difficulties gain confidence and new skills.
What’s more, if you talk to your own pet they will respond. Okay, maybe not a specific answer that you’re trying to work out, but many pets such as cats and dogs love communicating with the people in their life either vocally, or through an affectionate rub, full body lean, and even the gentle head butt of a cat.
People Can Help With Your Pets Too
If you do have a mental health condition such as anxiety, stress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), domestic animals can be recognized as part of a treatment plan. Your ‘ordinary’ pet can be elevated to be an emotional support animal (ESA) for you if its presence alleviates and helps you manage symptoms that limit your quality of life. Aside from the benefit to your health, there is some legal protection from discrimination for having an emotional support animal in rental housing and during air travel.