How I Knew That Pets Can Boost Your Mental Health
For as long as I can remember animals were my saving grace, creatures so full of unconditional love and happiness, that you couldn’t help but smile around them. From cats to dogs, time stood still as I cradled them affectionately, watching all my worries and strifes melt away, as the crinkled furrowing between my brows smoothed out. I would get lost in their presence, spending hours stroking pets, and feeling a warm gushing outpouring of love towards them, enveloped in a world where conflict, drama and reality failed to even exist.
Instead, negativity was was outweighed by the simplicity of a cat or dog’s world. It felt like magic, and I knew that ever since I was little that pets can boost your mental health. Whether it was my Aunty’s fluffy Persian cat called Lindo langorously stretched out demanding cuddles and kisses or our little Hamster ‘Baby’ who loved training on her wheel, pets and animals have always been a huge part of my life.
And yet I have never had the opportunity to own or buy my very own pet, because I have been renting rooms in London, where bringing pets isn’t allowed or even ethical. Still that didn’t stop me stealing kisses from other people’s pets, and alongside writing, animals became one of the most soothing and stabilising presences in my life. They taught me to be mindful, to be loving, kind and above all, completely myself.
Why I Want To Adopt Cats And Dogs From A Shelter
I remember this family friend, Alscina, who used to look after me when I was little. While she sadly passed away from Dementia a few years ago, she was one of the most incredible women that you could meet. A jaw droppingly talented painter, Alscina, like myself was passionate about animals, and when she moved back to Madeira, Portugal, she rescued 25 cats and 20 dogs, and took care of them all, in her own home.
It was almost like they were all her own children. And in a way they were; on a holiday to Madeira, one of my fondest memories was visiting her house and experiencing the sheer joy and ecstacy of being around so many animals, who had been saved by my dear friend. In Madeira, there is no such thing as the RSPCA, so animal cruelty was still a huge, huge problem, so the fact that Alscina saved these animals and gave them shelter, made my heart swell with pride. I spent the whole day transfixed, playing with the cats and dogs who were utterly loveable.
Her pets implored me to take a closer look. There were kittens and puppies, and older dogs and cats, dauschands and terriers and moggies and Persian kitties, all demanding to be stroked. I’ll never forget how happy it made me feel, as I visibly felt the anxiety seeping from my bones, wrapped in a ray of sunshine. It was like I had walked out of her house a completely new, more relaxed person. It felt amazing.
I’ll never forget any of the precious creatures that i’ve had the chance to meet, and like the late Alscina, it is my mission to adopt cats and dogs from a shelter, so that I can give them a new and loving home, with laughter and joy. Next year in September I will be moving in with my partner, so we are planning to adopt a precious kitty then, and I can’t wait! I know that it will be a step forward for my mental health and will not only reduce my anxiety and depression but will also decrease my stress levels and improve my patience.
And it’s not just me, read on below to find out why pets can boost your mental health today. From teaching you to be kinder to yourself and accepting love to becoming a more creative, well rounded individual, here are five ways that pets can bring joy and light into your life.
5 Reasons Why Pets Can Boost Your Mental Health
Pets Can Bring Out Your Artistic And Creative Side
As someone who is a writer, I have a tendency to second guess and criticise everything that I do, caught up in a guise of perfectionism. I triple check everything that I do, am always convinced that I can do better and am never satisfied with what I have achieved, even if I have done well. And yet around animals I am softer, blurred around the edges and kinder to myself. I let myself make mistakes, I allow myself to get lost in the moment and above all I perfect the art of letting go, watching my stresses float around my head like a wispy cloud, drifting away.
Around animals I feel calmer, more confident and loving, the demons that once gnawed at my brain so viciously, thrown into a cavern with an unbreakable key. I don’t worry about the if’s or the buts, or the future or past. Instead I am firmly in the present, focused on enveloping my precious animals in endless love, determined to not let our bubble of hope pop. It’s beautiful, it’s tranquil, all is peaceful here.
I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t own a pet that I find being around animals so magical, but i’ve always loved animals, and they truly do make me a kinder, more empathetic person. They make me a better person, they teach me to treat others how i’d like to be treated and they even bring out my artistic and creative side. While I am naturally creative anyway, sometimes when I have writer’s block, a few minutes alone with a pet can help break through that wall and allow me to create content that is engaging, insightful and true to who I am.
From writing short stories, to poems, blog posts and even songs, it might seem crazy for me to say that pets bring out your imaginative side but in my case it’s completely true. I remember how invigorated I felt after that trip to Madeira, how happy it made me feel, how it not only showed that pets can boost your mental health, but also how a much needed break can restore your love and passion for writing once more.
This is because owning a pet takes responsibility, which not only teaches you to be tenacious but also allows you to be ‘less of a perfectionist’. as you have to take action, without being held back by your own insecurities. And it is this mindset, that can help shape you creatively as well, because it is sometimes your flaws that can help you create your finest work. I should know, my personal blog posts are often raw, vunerable and written in the moment, as tears dribble messily down my face. It’s not a pretty process true, but it’s a much needed cleansing of the soul.
Don’t believe me? Then read on below to below to find out how pets can boost your mental health and make you happier, while giving you inspiration for creative ideas such as creating your own custom Pet Illustration and writing a creative story inspired by furry friends.
Creative Ideas That Pets Can Help You With To Make You Happier
- You can create your own Animal Illustration ,whether that be through ordering your own custom hand drawn illustration of your beloved pet, to post on Instagram, or to frame on your bedside table. This can also be a wonderful gift to yourself if you have lost a precious furry friend and want something to remember them by. They can become your very own creative spiritual guide.
- You can write a blog post on ways that pets boost your happiness, so that you have something positive to look back at on darker days. This can include how pets make you feel like you are loved unconditionally, are your best friend and are there for you as support.
- You could create a self-care toolkit for your pet, which will in turn boost your mental health. For example that might be washing and grooming your pet, creating an at home spa day for your furry friend or even something as simple as taking them for a walk.
- Teach your pet new tricks (only if they are happy with it of course!) and be the talk of the town. This will boost your self confidence, show you that pets can boost your mental health and self-esteem and above all give you a new hobby to keep you busy and active.
Pets Help Reduce Feelings Of Loneliness And Isolation
One of the biggest ways that pets can boost your mental health is by making you feel less lonely and isolated, particularly if you are living on your own. As someone who rents a room in London, I can often feel lonely and isolated, and struggle with spending large amounts of time on my own. While I rent with other people, we are all strangers, so it can feel hard when I am feeling low and need someone to talk to.
I struggle massively with my mental health, and have a number of mental issues including depression and anxiety, so living on my own can sometimes hinder my happiness. Which is where the idea of owning a pet comes in. While there is limited scientific evidence to suggest that pets can improve depression and anxiety itself, what having a pet does help with is making you feel happier, because you have shared companionship with your furry friend. So even if you are in the middle of nowhere with just your 10 cats for company, your mood will be boosted by their calming and friendly presence. In particular dogs are great companions who can make you feel less lonely.
This is because as a dog owner, you might have less negative emotions such as nervousness, distress or overwhelming feelings of isolation, because having something as simple as a cuddle with a dog can boost your mood quickly and easily. You can also meet new people when you have a pet by going on walks and make new friends (which I find is harder to do when you are older). More to the point animals, especially dogs are a steady form of companionship. Unlike friends who come and go, their love for you is unwavering, they are unfailingly loyal and above all they shower you-often relentlessly- with unconditional love. That is if your version of love is defined by slobbery kisses…
Pets make wonderful companions because they also exhibit human-like behaviours and a range of expressive emotions. For example, like humans, cats and dogs can express when they are feeling happy, when they are hungry, bored or need cheering up. When it comes to behaviours, uncanny traits include showing you love through cuddles and non-verbal communication, demonstrating gratitude by pawing at you/kissing you/ rubbing your face and signalling as to when they are hungry, tired or want to have some fun, just like humans.
Pets can boost your mental health both on a short term and long term basis. Short term, something as simple as stroking your cat can lower your stress level and have a positive calming effect. Long term, as I mentioned earlier pets fufil our need for companionship, and some pet owners have described having a dog or cat in the house as the emotional equivalent of having a romantic partner. This is because they are there for you as emotional support when you need them, and are intuitive to your emotions, especially cats and dogs.
Is it little wonder therefore that I crave the pitter patter of tiny paws in my room, mewling and barking playfully, imploring me to get up and see the world? And I am not the only one, pet lovers around the world have declared their love for their furry friends and quite literally thanked them for saving their lives. Whether that be from saving them from their mental health struggles because they have someone to wake up with each day or from dangerous scenarios, our pets really are our mental health heroes.
Pets Can Decrease Stress Levels And Make You Happier
I am very much the definition of a stresshead, although outwardly people will see me as ‘calm, collected and hyper organised’. I am someone who even in difficult times has a smile on her face, but it does not mean that I am not still suffering. Something that might seem trivial to you can fully escalate in my mind, causing me to panic, stress out and feel like I am on the edge.
It could be something as simple as not hearing back from a loved one and worrying that something bad has happened, immediately jumping to the negative without being rational. Or it could be something terrible, such as the death of my beloved angel, who sadly passsed last month. No matter how big or small, in my mind any scenario is blown out of proportion and I can make myself sick in the process.
As someone who has had extensive CBT therapy, I am getting better at managing my reactions, expectations and am learning to reframe my negative thoughts, but I have a long way to go in order to overcome my mental health issues. Mental health takes time and we should be proactive about being the best version of ourselves that we possibly can. For some pets are their emotional support champions at times.
Pets bring so much happiness to us, even in the most difficult of times. From consoling you when you are feeling grief, to being part of your biggest milestones in life, pets are more than just animals, but they are our friends, our confidantes and our family all rolled in one. They make you smile, they make you laugh, they entertain you and they bring a pep back into your step. And it’s not just hearsay either.
Did you know that positive human- animal interaction can have a huge impact on your happiness levels? This is because owning or being in the company of a pet can increase the oxytocin levels in the brain, which not only improves your mood as a short term effect, but it can also reduce depression and anxiety, although as I said earlier, scientific evidence for this is limited. Not only do they improve your mood, but playing with a dog or cat can also increase your dopamine and serotonin levels which helps you to feel more calm, relaxed and tranquil.
This is because having pet fufils our basic human need for ‘touch’, which equates to a desire for ‘affection’, ‘love’ and the motivation to ‘protect’, meaning our pets are like our children. Animals whether that be a cat or dog or horse or rabbit are all affectionate creatures, and while like humans some are more cuddly than others, all sentient beings crave love and companionship in some shape or form.
Pets Can Make You Feel Loved And Wanted
All I ever wanted in life was to feel the same love and affection that I gave to others returned back to me. But this wasn’t always the case and I would often feel rejected, dejected and worthless. I wanted to feel ‘wanted’, I wanted to feel like I wasn’t second best and that I was a priority in other people’s lives. And yet there were people in my life who never let me down, who had my back no matter what, and I am grateful for their everlasting love and support. They might be far and few between but these gems are a true blessing in my life and I love them for it.
With pets the feeling of not being loved, of not being needed or wanted disappears out the window. You feel responsible for their wellbeing, you look after them like they are your own child (which they basically are) and you revel in their unwavering love, a constant in a sea of unreliable people. With pets they depend on you, they shower you with love and worship the ground that you walk on.
When I am with animals, especially cats and dogs, I feel bliss like I never feel in my own company and it’s like I have stepped into a whole new world. All is calm here, all is bliss, time stops and your mind wanders free, free from inhibitions, free from destructive thoughts and into a new headspace where rainbow unicorns dance on a bed of happy sprinkles. It might sound like a novelty but that is what being around animals makes me feel like. And I am not the only one, pet owners worldwide have penned tributes to their loving animal companions.
From pets who help you adopt healthy lifestyle changes, including a better self-care toolkit and active routine to pets that help you meet new people, no matter what, animals are mental health advocates that can put you on a path to a happier, more relaxed you. In my case whenever I have looked after pets, albeit other people’s I have felt like I had a renewed purpose in life, had something to look forward to and felt reenergized. Being in the company of pets also made me feel loved, because there was someone who was actively seeking my affection.
As someone who is highly attuned to her emotions, I absolutely love being able to make other people happy because this in turn fuels my own happiness. So it should come as no surprise that pets can boost your mental health through their ability to mimic human like behaviours such as expressing love. And who doesen’t love the beauty of being in love, whether that is platonic, romantic or family orientated?
Pets Teach You To Lead A More Active And Fufilled Lifestyle
Having a pet adds much needed structure and routine to your day, particularly if you are working from home, or spending more time at home this year. In our own homes we can get lost and struggle to know how to manage our days, while feeling sluggish, fatigued and unmotivated. And I should know, while I am now working in the office again, from the end of March until August I was working from home and I found the first two months, incredibly difficult to adjust to. My routine had essentially gone out of the window, and there were no boundaries between work and play. Gradually I got into the swing of things, and transformed my diet, lifestyle and outlook on life.
I eat better, have a better self care routine and a reliable mental health toolkit that I can turn to in desperate times. While I don’t have a pet just yet, when I have been in the company of a furry friend, I have found that I have spent more time outside soaking up some much needed Vitamin D and have been more active in the process. After all, any pet owner knows that most pets require some form of excercise. Not only can pets boost your mental health through physical activity, but they also give you much needed sensory relief.
I mentioned earlier that humans have a basic human instinct to crave ‘touch’ and this is especially elevated during excercise with our pets, where they crave rewards for their good behaviour, demonstrate tell tale signs of affection (i.e. wagging their tail) and make distinctive noises such as mewing or yapping to voice their approval. This in turn makes you feel good, because you feel like you have made your pet happy.
Adopting healthier lifestyle changes is neccessary for good physical and mental health, so it’s no wonder why so many pet owners have stated that their pets have played an important part in improving their health. For example, alongside pets desire for ‘touch’, they are also quite active, which in turn will help you feel more motivated, more active and ready to start the day with a sparkle in your eyes.
In particular if you are taking your dog out for a walk or run, this is a great way to fit excercise into your schedule and make it fun. I am not someone who particularly enjoys traditional excercise like running, so you could make this more fun by doing a workout routine and bringing your pet along for a good ol’ boogie. Not only will a good excercise routine improve your health physically, but it will also improve your mental health because you are doing something proactive about your fitness while spending time with your pets.
Pets help you find joy and meaning in your life, regardless of what age you are. So caring for a pet, will teach valauble life skills such as ‘responsibility’, ‘creating a structured routine’ and being more active, even when you are at home. This is important as excercise with pets is more than just an activity, it’s also a life building framework that helps you stay connected, boosts your self-esteem and confidence also improves your vitality, even when you age. In short, like children, pets encourage you to take better care of yourself and others.
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Please note this is a collaborative post but all thoughts are my own and are not affected by monetary compensation.