Almost 20% of adults in America live with a mental illness these days. That’s over 50 million people!
Those are scary numbers. After all, no matter what type of mental illness you have, a defining feature of these conditions is the huge toll they take on your daily life. Left unchecked, they can strip the joy from your days.
Know the struggle and looking for solutions?
Well, alongside your other treatment approaches, it might be time to welcome a pet into your life! Trust us, furry friends can make an almighty difference to anyone with a chronic mental illness. Want to find out how they help?
Keep reading to discover 6 key benefits of pets and companion animals on maintaining mental health.
Having a chronic mental illness of any kind can make you feel incredibly alone. It can feel like nobody understands you; as if you’re the only person in the world who feels this way. Some people also lose their motivation to socialize and become anxious about being around others.
Over time, you can feel (and become) more and more isolated. Yet no man is an island! As social animals, we need the support and presence of other people to feel at our best. Spending too much time alone is a recipe for trouble.
This is a primary reason why getting an emotional support animal can be so powerful.
Suddenly, you’re not alone anymore. You have an animal in the house who loves you unconditionally. Their company can lessen those feelings of loneliness and offer all sorts of emotional support in the process.
2. Positive Mood
A huge amount of research has been done that demonstrates the role pets can play in improving our mood. They can take the edge off our unhappiness and put a smile on our faces!
The mechanisms in play here revolve around the release of powerful neurochemicals and hormones in our bodies. For instance, playing with a dog or stroking a cat can trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine in our system.
These are “feel-good” hormones that calm us down, suppress negative emotions, and lift our spirits in the process. Think about the last time you saw and/or patted a playful puppy. You might have experienced these benefits first-hand!
3. Stress Reduction
A wealth of evidence indicates that pets can reduce our stress levels as well.
Better still, it doesn’t take long for these effects to take place! Some studies suggest that just 5 minutes of interacting with a pet can have these stress-reducing benefits. Why?
Because something about this process lowers the level of cortisol in our body (otherwise known as “the stress hormone”). Not only that, but we also experience an influx of oxytocin at the same time.
Oxytocin’s nicknamed “the love hormone”, and for good reason! You know the warm, fuzzy feelings you get when you get a hug from someone? That’s a result of oxytocin being released into your system.
This combination of cortisol reduction and oxytocin release is great news for anyone with a chronic mental illness. They should feel less stressed, calmer, and happier.
4. Meaning and Purpose
Another common side-effect of having a mental illness is feeling like life has no meaning. Many people lose all motivation and hope. Alongside things like low mood and a lack of energy, even getting out of bed each morning can become difficult.
That can change when you get a pet to care for though! Whether you have American service pets or a dog from the pound, you have a living thing relying on you.
You have to feed it, play with it, take it to the vet when it gets sick, make sure it gets enough exercise, and so on. Not only does this responsibility lend life a newfound sense of purpose, but it also makes you feel important. It’s proof that you matter.
Oh, and don’t forget: doing good, feels good! Caring for a living creature is a positive deed that you can be proud of. Expect to feel lighter, brighter, and better about yourself through the simple act of looking after your pet.
5. Physical Activity
Depending on the animal in question, pets can also lead people to get more exercise each day. Take dogs, for example. The only way to keep them happy and healthy is to take them for walks!
That’s a big deal.
All of a sudden, you’re forced to leave the house, get some fresh air, move your legs, and get your heart pumping. Each of those elements can have a profound positive impact on how you feel! Likewise, as the weeks pass, you’ll become fitter and reap the endless rewards of being outside in nature.
6. Staying Present
Many mental illnesses take you out of the present moment. You might be worried about the future, sad about your past, or so deep in thought that you pay no attention to what’s happening around you!
Pets can pull you back into the here-and-now. After all, these adorable animals live fully in the moment!
From sniffing the smells outside to playing with other animals in the park, they’re never caught up in anything other than the present. By following their lead, we can become more mindful and less caught up in our problems. Furthermore, when life seems overwhelming, your pet can provide an all-important distraction- taking your mind off the situation and allowing you to return to brighter topics.
Remember How Pets Help Chronic Mental Illness
Tens of millions of people around the United States suffer from one mental illness or another nowadays. Thankfully, there are also many effective treatment approaches available that can help! Case and point?
As we’ve seen, the human and animal bond can provide welcome relief in all sorts of ways from the challenges of having a chronic mental illness. We hope the insights in this post have shed light on how and why that’s the case!
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