There are all sorts of ways to help keep us well - from being active, eating well, and doing meditation, to connecting with others and giving your time.
One thing that helps me are my pets! I have two cats and a dog who bring me immense joy and comfort. There is a lot to be said for the benefits of the human-animal bond. My pets can be a welcome distraction and help reduce my anxiety and stress levels.
Pets provide comfort and enjoyment, as well as help people in their recovery and coping with both physical and mental health problems. There are lots of studies that show the benefits of having or playing with an animal. Playing with a pet can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine which helps us to calm and relax, reduce blood pressure, and improve our cardiovascular health.
How does having a pet or playing with an animal help our wellbeing?
- Pets make great companions, which helps reduce those feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Taking a dog for a walk helps us build in exercise into our life which is great for our hearts and physical health, as well as getting out into nature
- Pets help us build structure and routine into our day. Dogs need feeding and walking every day which helps us get out of bed in the morning and start our day
- Interacting with pets (touching, stroking, and hugging) helps decrease levels of cortisol (stress-related hormone) and lower our blood pressure which helps quickly calm and relax us when we are stressed and anxious
- Pets are great listeners who don’t criticise you and offer unconditional love
- Pets are a great way to meet new people. Walking your dog or going to the local dog park can lead to conversations with others dog owners. Social connection with others is an important part of maintaining our wellbeing
If you can’t have your own pet, you could spend some time with a friend or family member’s pet, offer to do dog walking, or volunteer at your local rescue.
www.healthnavigator.org.nz – Owning a pet is good for your mental wellbeing
www.helpguide.org – The Health and Mood-boosting benefits of Pets
www.healthline.com – Pet Therapy
www.mentalhealth.org.nz - Five ways to Wellbeing
www.mentalhealth.org.uk – Pets and Mental Health
- Lauren Gaffaney
Team Leader, Towards Wellbeing
Brooks, H.L., Rushton, K, Lovell, K. et al., (2018). The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence. BMC Psychiatry, 18(31).
Morrison, M. L. (2007). Health Benefits of Animal-Assisted Interventions. Complementary Health practice review, 12(1), 51-62.