The connection between animals and mental health is hard to ignore. Research studies continue to confirm that having a pet or interacting with animals has multiple mental health benefits that can both relieve and prevent mental health issues.
If you have ever been a pet owner, I’m sure you can confirm that having a furry friend to come home to provides much needed companionship. Companionship that can combat feelings of loneliness and provide a much needed greeting after a long day.
Having a pet is also proven to decrease anxiety and depression. Interactions with pets have shown to lower stress related hormones such as cortisol, while at the same time increasing mood boosters like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. These are hormones that not only make us feel happy, but also help us to relax and lower stress levels.
Providing care for an animal can also establish a routine and schedule which can sometimes be lacking when we are experiencing symptoms of depression. As well, having a pet can increase the likelihood of regular physical activity and the opportunity to go outside, such as playing with or walking a dog. Exercise and fresh air have also proven to decrease symptoms related to anxiety and depression.
As well, hyperactive children or children who experience aggression have shown to lessen troublesome symptoms and behaviors when animals are involved either at home or as part of a treatment plan with their school or mental health provider. Providing care for animals also provides a sense of responsibility and of being needed. Which have both shown to combat problem behaviors in children and reduce anxiety.
If having a pet is not for you, there are other options to incorporate animal interactions into your life.
Volunteering at your local animal shelter is a great way to give back and provide care for animals who are waiting for their forever homes. Getting children involved is also a great introduction to animals and serving their community.
Participating in or volunteering for programs that offer equine assisted therapy also provide a way to give back and interact with animals. Equine assisted therapy includes therapeutic interactions with horses in a controlled environment which may include therapeutic horseback riding, grooming, feeding and ground exercises. Horses have shown to have an understanding and sensitivity to human emotions which can provide as a great option for those who are resistant to traditional talk therapy.
Contact one of the many animal shelters or equine therapy services in your area to learn how you could get involved.