According to statistics, there are over 7.6 million companion pets in the U.S. who enter the animal shelter every year and 2.7 million of them euthanized. In an effort to save the lives of these animals who are only longing to have a place to call home, people are being encouraged to adopt animals from rescue shelters. And some have become a source of emotional support.
But did you know that more than saving their lives, multiple studies all over the world say that having a pet saves your life too?
According to a research conducted in State University of New York in the year 2002, being around with a pet relieves stress more than being with a spouse, family, or friend. In addition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that having a pet is beneficial especially to people who have hypertension. “If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower,” Marty Becker, a veterinary consultant for Good Morning America said.
But aside from these physical benefits that taking care of a pet can bring to one’s health. There are numerous studies showing that being surrounded with companion animals is good for improving ones mental health as well.
In a study conducted in the year 2016 explored the significant participation of pets in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health problem such as depression. In the same study, it has been discovered that pets can give a sense of security and emotional and social support to their owners who are suffering from depression.
“A pet can remind you that you’re not alone,” Desiree Wiercyski, a life coach in Fort Wayne, explained how pets can improve ones mood. “Pets offer unconditional love, which can be extraordinarily soothing when feeling isolated.”
In support of the study, the life coach shared her own life experience in which her dog helped her cope from her the darkest days of her life.
“My pup has been right beside me offering comfort and love, reminding me that things aren’t so bad.” Desiree shared, recalling the days her dog became her pillar of strength and support.
According to a clinical psychologist named Dr. Perpetua Neo, animals can offer emotional support to their owners because they know when their owners need them the most.
“Animals pick up on when their owners are distressed,” Dr. Neo explained. Thus, when they sense that their owner is under the weather, they are eager to comfort them.
Apparently, life coach Desiree is not the only one who can attest to the emotional support (wonderful physical and mental benefits) that owning a pet could bring. Avigayil Brown, an animal enthusiast also finds Desiree’s testament very relatable.
According to Avigayil, she has always been surrounded by animals companions, however, it was only when she experienced depression that she realized how helpful her pets were.
It was during the time that Avigayil moved into her own apartment, that she became depressed and had a hard time sleeping. It was only after adopting two kittens she acquired from a rescue shelter, that she was able to sleep better.
“When I was lying in my bed, my cats would come and snuggle with me. If I got out of bed just to go to the bathroom, my cats followed me. It was very calming,” Avigayil recalled.
According to research, Avigayil’s cat is not the only pet capable of giving emotional support to people. Have you ever wondered why fish tanks are present in almost every dental clinics? Well science says that pets such as fish can lower ones blood pressure and regulate ones heart rate. This calm people’s nerves, soothing them in an instant.
Life coach Desiree supports the research and shared how pets induce a relaxing effect to their owners. “Touch helps increase oxytocin levels and reduces cortisol, the infamous stress-related hormone,” Desiree said, Thus, even by merely petting our dog or stroking our cat can already improve our mood.
Aside from pets ability to soothe our nerves, a professor of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University also believes that interactions between people and animal companions can ease anxiety and hush fear. In a survey conducted by professor Sandra Barker, her gathered data shows that people with severe depression felt more relaxed and happier after being around a therapy dog.
In addition, it is no secret that sweating it out is beneficial for depressed people. In a research study entitled The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed, it has been discovered that the feel-good endorphins we release when we exercise also helps in improving the mood of people with depression.
And pet owners tend to get more opportunity to exercise than those without. This is because pet owners have an obligation to walk their pets, such as dogs, in order to keep them in their best shape. In addition, fulfilling this duty to our pet is already enough to give us a sense of purpose and responsibility.
Life coach Desiree shared how depression made her it difficult for her to accomplish anything, and how hard it is for her to go outside. Fortunately, she has a dog who needs to have its daily dose of exercise. Thus, no matter how much she hated going outdoor is, she had no choice but to walk her dog outside.
“Even just those couple minutes outside raises my mood and makes me feel like I’m capable of something productive,” Desiree recalled.
Courtney Sparkman, a 29-year-old woman who also suffered from depression shared how her two miniature poodles helped her recover. “Even when I don’t feel like getting out of bed or leaving the house, I know they’re depending on me… It helps me make it through the day.”
According to psychologists, keeping a pet is synonymous to having a responsibility for its life. And apparently, giving responsibility to depressed people helps in improving their mental health condition.
Thus it is highly recommendable for people with depression to be surrounded with animal companions. Having a pet encourages them to be with someone who they need and enjoy spending time with. In addition, the more they play and pet their companion animals, the better they feel. As what Dr. Neo said, “The act of giving can be very mindful and very therapeutic.”
If you think that keeping a pet is an overwhelming step for you, then fear not! You can start by taking little steps. You can start by dropping by pet-themed cafes that allow you to interact with tamed animal companions, or you can pet-sit for your friend.
At the end of the day, an animal companion is there to accompany you in every moment of your life. They may not magically cure your physical and mental ailment away but they will certainly stay there with you and make sure that you are not alone in your journey.