1. Petting Promotes Positive Brain Chemistry
Scientific evidence shows that interacting with pets stimulates chemicals in the brain associated with happiness, calmness, and focus. Serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin are known as “feel-good” hormones. Serotonin, specifically, is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. Serotonin neurotransmitters – which carry messages between nerve cells and the brain – are activated through our sense of touch. So, when our nerves are stimulated by the action of petting a cat or dog, these neurotransmitters cause serotonin hormones to be released in the brain.
2. They’re Great Listeners
Whether you’re going through a breakup, having issues with a co-worker, or simply having an unlucky day, sometimes the only way to release the burden is by talking about it. The bittersweet news is, since your pet can’t talk, it will always be able to listen. Animals won’t judge you for venting about your problems or deepest darkest secrets, and offer the unconditional love that humans may not be capable of. Talking to your pet also benefits their mood because the sound of their owner’s voice is found to be comforting to them.
3. Redirect Thoughts
Pets can help us develop coping skills similar to meditation, exercises, and calling a friend/family member. A coping skill is a strategy or activity that is used to moderate difficult situations and feelings. A regular routine with your pet can provide distractions from unwanted or spiraling thoughts, and instill a sense of purpose within.
4. Exercise & Social Skills
People who battle mental health issues may experience isolation and inactivity as side effects of their condition. Animals that require outdoor exercise give their owner the excuse they need to get out of the house, especially if they work from home. Going on walks improves happiness and the human-nature connection, and getting sunlight for 10-30 minutes per day can improve your physical health. Visiting the dog park is also a great way to meet new people and stimulate social interaction.
5. Reduce Loneliness
According to a survey conducted by HABRI and Mars Petcare, 85% of participants (pet owners and non-pet owners) agree that pet interaction can help relieve the thoughts and feelings associated with loneliness. Older adults, in particular, are susceptible to loneliness. But a pet can provide a sense of purpose and meaning, and increase socialization and resilience.
6. Better Self-Esteem
Moreover, that sense of purpose can lead to better self-esteem. Providing food, water, and care for an animal that is dependent on you may help alter your own image of yourself. If you find yourself constantly putting yourself down, telling yourself you aren’t good enough or capable of achieving your goals, you will be able to look into your pet’s eyes and know that they already see all that in you.
7. Staying Grounded
The purity and simplicity of how pets view the world can be used as a heartwarming reminder for yourself. Engaging in activities that your pet enjoys, such as playing fetch, swimming, or bird watching, is a great technique to use when you feel disconnected from reality.
Disclaimer: Some mental health disorders can be severely debilitating, isolating, and/or depriving of logical reason. Signs of a mental health crisis may appear in the following forms: neglecting personal welfare (i.e. proper hygiene, nutrition, sleep, etc.) or lack of motivation to perform everyday activities (i.e. exercise, social interaction, skipping/forgetting scheduled meetings, etc). In these cases, a pet will only invite more stress into their life and add their their already long list of responsibilities. Therefore, someone who cannot take proper care of themselves cannot properly care for an animal. If you or someone you know is exhibiting these described behaviors, please seek a professional psychiatric/medical opinion as soon as possible.
For immediate support, call the Denton County MHMR Center 800.762.0157