We are living in uncertain times. There’s a global pandemic, a looming election, several natural disasters, police brutality, and economic recessions. Social media and technology are both a blessing and a curse because they keep us informed, but they keep us too informed. We never get a break and can develop feelings of insignificance, depression, loneliness, anxiety, and stress as a result.
There is no magical antidote to fix all the problems of the world, and there isn’t one to immediately fix your mental health. That being said, new research found that having a pet is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. Human-animal interaction is powerful and it may counteract the psychological distress, which has increased dramatically over the past three months.
How Do Pets Improve Mental Health
Roughly 68% of American households have have pets, but that doesn’t mean that all of those people are stress-free. The NIH found that different animals, from fish to cats and dogs to guinea pigs, help reduce cortisol levels and blood pressure. While regular human-animal interaction can boost your mood and reduce anxiety, there’s no one way that pets can improve mental health. Pets benefit people in different ways, and you can see how if you keep reading.
Pets Help With Depression
Dogs seem to understand you on an emotional level. They know when to comfort you, but they also help to motivate you when you’re feeling down. Depression can overwhelm the body, and you may not want to step out of your home as a result. If you have a dog, though, you need to walk it! You put your dog’s needs ahead of your own and caring for it gives your day purpose and reward. Some people may even find that dogs help them get out of a depressive slump and inspire creativity.
Pets Encourage An Active Lifestyle
To piggyback on the previous tip, dogs get you out of the house and increase your physical activity. Whether you go to the dog park, go on hikes, or walk around the neighborhood daily, having a dog keeps you active. Studies show that increased exercise or physical activity helps to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, being out in nature with your pet helps to reduce stress levels. Dog walking is great cardiovascular exercise and can improve the function of the sympathetic nervous system, reduce blood pressure, and decrease the risk of obesity.
Pets Diversify Your Microbiome
More and more research points to a strong connection between the gut and brain. An unhealthy gut can increase your risk cognitive decline, depression, or anxiety. More recent studies found that children who grow up with pets, particularly dogs, have a lower risk of developing autoimmune disorders, including allergies and asthma. The reason for this is because pets bring in diverse microbes from the outside world into the home. One study found that dog owners had an additional 56 classes of bacterial species in their gut, when compared to non-dog owners. Another study found that increasing the diversity of bacteria in the gut has a major influence on overall health and immune function.
Pets Lower Stress And Anxiety
When you spend a lot of time with animals, you help to naturally increase the production of oxytocin, a calming endorphin that improves relaxation and trust. This happens whether you smother a cat with love or lock eyes with a dog as you pass it on the street. The constant presence of animals can actually comfort and support people with anxiety. One study found that pets provide a sense of stability and security, emotionally supporting owners with long-term mental health conditions. A 2019 study found that 10 minutes with a pet can lower your cortisol levels!