How pets help our mental health
Imagine an adorable puppy wagging its tail as soon as it sees you, or a cranky old cat sitting on your lap and staring at you with large eyes. The effect would be immediate –you can feel yourself instinctively grin, and a terrible day would turn into a better one. An adorable defenceless kitten pawing at our face would soften even the most jaded and hardened one among us.
What most people don't realise is that pets can have a significantly larger long-term impact on our mental health.
Although individual experiences may vary, it can be argued that pets positively impact the mental health of their human companions in the vast majority of cases. Most of us can relate to craving affection and companionship, especially during our time spent in quarantine.
Our basic need for human touch may go unsatisfied, especially in homes where physical affection isn't as freely given. Hugging friends also become a rare occurrence during our mutually busy lives. Interacting with our pets through touch can alleviate that craving since their affection is provides positive sensory input. Coming home to a loving animal companion after a stressful day can feel immensely comforting.
Furthermore, as some studies have shown, merely petting or playing with pets can raise oxytocin and dopamine levels, which create positive feelings and serve as a good bonding experience for both the person and their pet.
Petting and embracing our pets can provide sensory stress relief for those who suffer from anxiety. Pets can also be an accessible source of mutual affection for people who may be deprived of that level of comfort due to social anxiety. Animals live in the moment and their love for us is not contingent upon painstakingly going through layers of social cues before coming to a position where affection can become a granted thing. Asking for a hug from another person, no matter how close we might be to them, can still be daunting at times. Fear of being judged or questioned can stop us from even asking. Pets can give us that quick boost of serotonin without any prelude.
In the long run, having an animal to care for can make us feel loved and wanted even when we are at our lowest. It can also assist us in implementing some structure into our lives. Feeding, walking, and caring for a pet can help us stick to a schedule, which can be especially difficult for those of us who become easily distracted or often get lost in our own heads.
Pets also encourage us in becoming more active in our daily lives, which is something that many of us avoid. Walking our dogs or playing with a cat encourages physical activity when we might just want to stay in bed all day during our more depressive periods.
Pets are not a solution to our mental health problems, but at the very least, they can give us a reason to smile even when we feel as though we don't have much to smile about, which is a big feat in and of itself.
Nushba is uselessly raging about the patriarchy and crying because her cat doesn't love her. Please send help at [email protected]