Everyone knows that well-behaved pets can become certified as medical service animals to help people with disabilities, but did you know that depression and anxiety are some of the issues that they can help treat? In fact, countless studies have observed what has been deemed “the pet effect” – the ability that pet owners have to fend off anxiety and depression, as proven by the measurement of reliable stress indicators such as blood pressure and hormone levels. In addition to medical proof, there’s also an endless amount of anecdotal evidence to consider, as surveys have shown that more than 75% of pet owners report having positive mental health effects from owning a pet, including increased happiness, enjoyment, and relaxation. With that said, here are five ways pets have been proven to help fight the effects of depression and anxiety:
1. Heightened Physical Activity
Exercise and even light physical activity are known to help facilitate recovery from anxiety and depression. Many mental illnesses that are associated with negative moods can be effectively treated by optimising your physical condition and getting into better shape. In fact, numerous studies have linked obesity and poor endurance with mental health problems. Of course, pets help you stay active when you’re taking them on long walks or even just for a frolicking session in the backyard.
Note: Before you go buy a pet and tackle the world with them, you might want to consider pet insurance through a provider like Everypaw. Insurance for pets is a key safety net that will protect you from huge vets bills. This is especially the case for dog owners, as without dog insurance, vet bills can be sky-high.
2. Preventing Loneliness
Loneliness and boredom are two of the key factors that contribute to depression and anxiety. Although your pet can’t talk to you, surveys have shown that the vast majority of pet owners derive meaningful companionship from their pets. A 2016 study archived by Habri Central – a provider of resources for the study of the human-animal bond – showed that mental health patients do obtain long-term connectivity and security by interacting with their pets and incorporating them into their social networking routine.
3. Increasing Oxytocin Levels
Often called the “creature comfort” hormone, Oxytocin has been linked to social bonding, trust, and the feeling of relaxation by many medical studies. This is the same hormone that is released in both mother and baby during breastfeeding, and in couples during moments of affection. Scientists have observed that oxytocin levels increase in both pets and their owners when they interact with each other. As far as which animal boosts oxytocin the most? It turns out dogs have the largest body of scientific evidence that proves their ability to boost oxytocin levels.
4. A Hobby and Source of Entertainment
Countless studies have shown that engaging in a humorous or fun activity is one of the best natural ways to fight depression. A good comedy show might do it for some folks, but every pet owner knows that nothing brightens their day more than being greeted by a cuddly critter after a long day at work. Pets can keep you entertained during times when you would otherwise have nothing to do and can, therefore, keep you from stewing in your own sadness or frustration.
5. They Create Opportunities for Socialisation and Online Sharing
People who deal with social anxiety and nervousness can find it difficult to approach other people and make new friends. Pets make this process easy because it’s only natural for other pet owners and people who are interested in your pet to stop and talk to you. Likewise, they provide something to post about on social media sites like Facebook, whereas some pet owners would find themselves focusing on their own shortcomings through social comparison if they didn’t have their pet videos and pictures to share. Avoiding socialisation altogether is unhealthy, but observing others socialise on social networking sites without participating can be bad as well. Pets give you a reason to stay active and proud online.
Pets Can’t Cure Everyone Instantly
If you’re thinking that you’ll be able to buy a puppy or kitten and suddenly overcome any bout of depression or anxiety you’re currently facing, this might not be true, depending on the severity of your condition and the circumstances that have contributed to it. Obviously, if you’re suffering from the loss of a loved one or some other traumatic event, it might just take time for the wounds to heal, and no pet can change that.
However, if you’ve been diagnosed with long-term depression in the form of a persistent mental illness, getting a pet can be a worthwhile step to take in creating a home environment that is more conducive to your treatment. As your bond with your pet begins to strengthen, the release of oxytocin and other feel-good hormones will increase when you interact with them. Eventually, you might just find that your pet winds up being your saving grace in the fight against mental illness.