Written by Marketing & Community Outreach Volunteer, Jane Hillhouse
After adopting a new pet, not only are you opening your arms to a new best friend and endless cuddles, you are also taking a step toward improving your mental health. Welcoming a new pet into your life can bring about feelings of excitement, compassion, and love – the good news is that these feelings are not temporary. Recent studies have shown that pets can lower stress levels, increase well-being, build healthy habits, boost self-esteem, and improve social skills.
Your pet will always be there for you on your bad days. Being greeted by your pet after a long day at work can reduce stress by boosting your mood. Research shows that simply petting an animal lowers the human stress hormone cortisol, and increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin (the same hormone that bonds mothers to babies).
Pets also have a great ability to make us laugh since each one has a personality of their own. Laughter has been proven to relieve the body’s stress by relaxing tense muscles and by stimulating circulation. Even just a short time spent with a pet can release stressful thoughts by allowing you to be in the moment with your companion and forget about the busyness of life.
Building Healthy Habits
There are many ways that pets can contribute to being a happier, healthier version of ourselves. According to a mental health survey, 76% of pet owners report that their personal health has improved as a result of owning a pet, up from 71% in 2016. This is due to benefits like increased exercise from walking your pet and maintaining a structured routine for you and your pet.
Getting outside for fresh air and exercise greatly reduces depression, which can be especially helpful in these cold winter months. Walking outside can lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease. While it may be bothersome to wake up to your dog or cat licking your face in search of a walk or breakfast, waking up with a morning routine can lead to a balanced lifestyle for both you and your animal.
Boosting Self Esteem
Low self-esteem often stems from a lack of emotional support or positive affirmation from peers. These aspects of social support can be remedied by pets, who are always available to provide comfort and reassurance without the threat of judgement. Caring for an animal also allows humans to feel needed which is important for building self-esteem and establishing a sense of purpose.
Not only might you find a new companion with your pet, but your pet can also help you meet people within your community. Using dog parks or joining other animal community groups leads to increased human interaction and, in turn, support from your local community. Our pets help us build relationship skills that can be used when interacting with others in social situations, which can help lower anxiety by overcoming social isolation.
The positive impact on humans’ mental health shows how powerful the bond between humans and animals is. It’s important to thank your pet for all that they do for you by taking care of its health. Keeping your pet engaged, attending yearly veterinary visits, and maintaining proper hygiene are all important for keeping your pets healthy too.