Dec 17, 2014
Pets have been proven to help people live healthier lives. It’s long been known that pet owners enjoy a number of therapeutic and health benefits, such as reduced stress and plenty of exercise to name a few. But these benefits are not limited to physical health; there are mental health benefits of pet ownership, too.
The most common benefit that pet owners swear by has to do with their pets’ unconditional love and constant companionship. Having a source of companionship is important for people who live alone, and having a pet close by to talk to, play with, and even fuss over provides them with a healthy dose of social interaction—even if it’s not with another person. For pet owners who are shy or suffer from social anxiety when around other people, this is actually more therapeutic since a loyal pet, such as a dog or cat, won’t trigger anxiety attacks.
It all starts when pet owners come home from work or school, put their feet up, and go through the motion of petting or grooming their furry friend. Connecting with a pet this way relaxes both the pet and owner, and works to relieve stress and anxiety. Research has revealed that it’s not just because of the soothing repetitive motions or the distraction and companionship that this action provides; a chemical called oxytocin is involved to provide these benefits.
Commonly referred to as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is the hormone that’s related to stress and anxiety relief, and helps lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol, or the “stress hormone.” It’s also involved in social interactions, and brings about pleasant feelings of connectedness and trust between people—and, according to research, dogs as well. Simply put, the production of this hormone promotes warm, pleasant feelings for people and dogs alike, and is released during mutually pleasant human-dog interactions. It’s also one of the reasons behind the strong bond between a dog and its owner.
When considering the mental health benefits of pet ownership, oxytocin plays a huge role in all of this. The feeling of trust that pet interaction generates is also something that’s being used during animal-assisted psychotherapy sessions with patients, especially with children suffering from mental conditions such as anxiety or emotional traumas. Researchers and therapists have found that shy or distressed patients are calmer, less shy, more attentive, and generally more positive when a friendly—usually trained—pet is around during counseling sessions.
So the next time you feel a little down, lonely, or depressed, you can start by petting a dog, if not getting a dog altogether to receive a quick mood boost. In the long run, you’ll swear by the physical and mental health benefits that pets can provide you. If you’re unable to care for a pet at home for any reason, you can also volunteer at a local shelter and do some good for the community.
Are you interested in getting therapy or professional counseling to help you with an issue or a particular challenge in your career or personal life? Talk to us at Dallas Whole Life Counseling. We can help you find the missing piece and complete your life.