You can’t help but smile when a cute puppy or kitten cuddles up against you. Little wonder: studies have proved that animals can significantly lift our mood and relieve stress. What’s more interesting is that this golden effect applies to just about any kind of animal — not only companion animals. Whether it’s a cat, dog, bunny, horse, turtle, hamster, goldfish, bird or even a cricket (and yes, there has been research involving crickets!), studies have confirmed a significant connection between animals and our mental health.
Animals have a positive effect on people for a multitude of reasons:
Animals chemically affect our moods in a good way.
Interacting with animals actually causes your body to produce serotonin and dopamine which help offset depression and anxiety. This explains why many hospital programs have begun animal-assisted therapy programs as part of their chronically and terminally ill patient care. In fact, a Human-Animal Bond Research (HABRI) study revealed that 97% of patients showed improved mental health after interacting with animals. It’s also likely why emotional support animals are showing up more and more. And why it is becoming increasingly common to hear about horses being used to help teens address emotional issues.
Pets have calming effects on us.
Playing quietly or petting an animal helps calm the mind; maybe it’s the repetitive physical action coupled with the distraction of the animal itself that causes a racing mind to slow down. Pets have a positive effect on children with ADHD; not only does pet play burn off excess energy, but the sense of responsibility and routine that comes from caring for one also plays a key role. Those on the autism spectrum also benefit greatly from pets; stroking docile animals helps overcome sensory issues, increases receptiveness to others and encourages positive social behaviours.
Pets help us build relationships.
While you’re out walking the dog, you’re apt to socialize with other people who are out and about, and that’s a good thing for your mental health. But having a pet you care about also means you’ve formed an emotional attachment, leaving you more open to building human relationships and forming more emotional attachments. People who have friendships in place tend to be mentally healthier.
Pets make us feel needed.
The very act of being responsible for a living thing – even something as small as a cricket – increases our sense of purpose. Having something to care for reduces our feelings of loneliness and depression, especially when we are rewarded with unconditional love. Research published by the American Psychological Association has shown that caring for an animal also distracts us so we are less preoccupied with the symptoms of our mental state.
Pets help us keep our bodies healthy, which in turns leads to healthier minds.
Pets naturally lead us to be more active – whether it’s through play or exercise due to those regular walks. Studies have shown that seniors who own pets visit the doctor 30% less than those who don’t. And healthy bodies tend to lead to healthy minds.
With Mental Health Week taking place May 6-12, you’ll likely be hearing a lot about strategies for keeping your mental health in check. It will be interesting to see where animal companions rank on their list. Meanwhile, if your lifestyle doesn’t allow for having a pet, don’t despair. Just become a regular visitor at your local animal shelter; the animals there would benefit greatly from your attention. And look for other ways to stay engaged in order to stay mentally healthy. It will do you a world of good. Canada Protection Plan wishes you a lifetime of good physical and mental health!
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