The Power of Pets!
How pet ownership improves emotional well-being
As many people take up social distancing and isolation guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, companion pets are helping to combat loneliness and reduce levels of anxiety and stress that many are experiencing during these uncertain times.
The bond between owners and their pets can be powerful, and the correlation between pets and mental health is undeniable. The unconditional love of a pet can do more than just keep you company during self-isolation, pets can bring us joy, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood – we can all benefit from a pet’s emotional support right now!
The first research on pets and mental health was published around 30 years ago. Psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and Psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania conducted the study. They measured what happens to the body when a person touches a friendly dog. Here’s what they found:
- Blood pressure went down
- Heart rate slowed
- Breathing became more regular
- Muscle tension relaxed.
Their findings from the study discovered physical evidence of the mental health benefits of pets. Since then, scientists have discovered much more about the connection between pets and mental health. As a result, animal-assisted therapy programs and emotional support dogs have become an important part of mental health treatment. Further studies around pets and mental health have shown that playing with animals is likely to reduce stress-related hormones and these benefits can occur after just five minutes of interacting with a pet, making them invaluable for anxiety sufferers.
Interacting with our pet can increase our levels of serotonin and dopamine. These are hormones that calm and relax the nervous system. When we smile and laugh at our pets’ cute behaviour, that can help stimulate the release of these happiness hormones. A simple interaction with a friendly dog can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and it increases the release of oxytocin—another chemical in the body that reduces stress naturally. That’s why animal-assisted therapy is so powerful.
A sense of belonging and purpose is often found with pet ownership. People tend to feel more needed and wanted when they have a pet to care for, and the act of care-giving has shown to have mental health benefits. It can give us a sense of meaning, and help those who suffer from depression or anxiety. As pets require daily care, they can help us build healthy habits and routines likes getting up earlier in the morning or going for daily walks.
Pet ownership can also help us be more mindful as pets tend to ‘live in the moment’ Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the present moment, and pets can be a great way to help us get our mind off things that are worrying us or making us upset.
Our pets will help us combat the feeling of social isolation and loneliness while we all do our best to stay home during this pandemic. Pets across the country will be enjoying more quality time spent with their families, and providing unconditional love no matter what. This kind of unconditional love is good for mental health as it can:
- stimulate the brain to release dopamine
- increase our feeling of social connection
- improve our self-esteem
- make us feel more optimistic, even in bleak times
- increase our cognitive function
- improve our emotional regulation skills
- reduce anxiety and depression
Remember: If you are concerned about your pet’s health while you are self-isolating, don’t break your quarantine – simply ring your local vet for advice. They will be able to work with you to ensure your pet receives the care they need while keeping everyone safe from potential infection.