How Pets Help Us with Depression, Anxiety and So Much More
With lockdowns in place due to the pandemic, many families who are stuck at home find themselves going a bit stir crazy. A number of them are finding the solution to their situation at the local animal shelter. Pet adoptions are surging thanks to the Coronavirus. This is a huge win for homeless pets, but it’s also beneficial for the human beings that are adopting them.
Companion animals are good for us. With Covid-19 taking its toll on us, we need the benefits a pet provides more than ever. Many people are dealing with stress and depression thanks to the isolation of the lockdowns. Others contend with serious illness. Some families have financial worries.
Can pets help us? Research shows they can. Studies have found that pets can help their owners experience better overall health. For example, a study of senior citizens found that those with pets were less likely to be depressed than those without a furry family member. Another study found that cat owners are less likely to die from a heart attack.
People with pets experience higher levels of natural oxycontin and lower levels of cortisol. They also have more serotonin and dopamine. What do these chemicals do?
Oxycontin affects the pleasure centers of the brain. Cortisol can trigger the fight-or-flight response. Serotonin increases the sense of well-being and stabilizes moods. Dopamine is linked to pleasure and motivation. Because of the profound effect having a pet has on these chemicals in the human body, pet owners find that they feel happier and more relaxed.
While all pets help their owners feel better, dogs and cats in particular are effective at helping people. They not only reduce the stress and anxiety people feel but they also encourage people to be more playful and active.
Studies have shown that people who own dogs often lose weight. Of course, this does depend on the type of dog and whether or not the owner is diligent about walking it. The owner of an active young German Shepherd or Border Collie will probably find themselves getting significantly more exercise than the owner of an aging bulldog!
There are also emotional benefits to having a pet. Our companion animals have evolved to be attuned to us. They understand many of our words and gestures and they try to communicate with us. It was discovered, for example, that domestic cats meow differently than wild cats. Dogs are geniuses when it comes to gauging the emotional state of their owners. And horses have been used to help autistic children .
Pets reduce stress and anxiety. They help alleviate depression and loneliness and they help people become physically healthier. Children who care for pets are more emotionally secure and physically active. Retired folks with companion animals live longer. Pets provide us with all of these benefits as well as giving us unconditional love.
While dogs and cats provide the most benefits, other animals are therapeutic too. Petting a bunny or watching a fish swimming in a tank will calm your nerves and reduce tension.
How do pets manage to help us so much?
They add structure and meaning to our days. Someone who feels too depressed to get out of bed will do so to feed their beloved pets. People who spend their days glued to a screen benefit from taking their dog for a walk or playing with their cat. Lonely people feel loved when greeted by a wagging tail or purring cat. Stroking furry friends provides comfort to the bereaved.
In normal times, animals also help people socialize. They can make a new friend at the dog park or chat with fellow cat lovers online. Even people who are socially anxious can overcome their fears. They feel more confident because the focus is on their pets, not themselves.
In this time of lockdowns, pets still provide us with social stimulus. In the case of people who are quarantined, the pet substitutes for human contact. For others, socially distant romps at the dog park or Zoom meetings to discuss their cat’s recent escapades provide much needed relief from isolation.
Of course, having a pet is not a panacea for all that ails you. It’s also a big responsibility. Not everyone can handle the commitment that a companion animal entails. For those of us can, however, owning a pet can ease our anxiety and depression as well as helping us in many other ways.
Explore Games and Apps