Emotional support animals are everywhere these days. And it’s gone way beyond just dogs, cats or bunnies. Now, people are finding support and help from everything, from snakes to turkeys as well.
Studies have found that pet owners are less likely to experience issues with depression and anxiety. They even have fewer problems with physical ailments like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. But what is it about animals that produces so many positive effects on us and on our lives?
Below are 7 benefits of owning pets:
Loneliness is one of the most crushing feelings a person can experience. People who are lonely are more prone to depression, health issues, and even suicide.
Pets go a long way in reducing loneliness by providing companionship. The type of pet isn’t as important as the connection a person develops with that pet.
The presence of a pet when you are feeling lonely can, just by being there, helps push those feelings away. And, although they can’t talk back, talking to your pet can prove to be both calming and comforting.
Although it can be difficult to walk a snake, many pets require regular physical interaction or exercise to maintain their health. This means that in order to keep them healthy, you will have move a bit, too.
This extra exercise, whether through walks, play or other outings, can have a positive impact on your mental and physical condition. It has been shown that overall, pet owners are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. This probably has to do with the additional exercise that comes with owning a pet.
3. Social Interaction
Whether it’s the vet, the pet store or a park, pets can give us new reasons to meet people and be social. Just being forced into being around others who also have pets creates a common connection.
Being a pet owner automatically provides a topic for conversation and a sense of community with other pet owners.
4. Structure and purpose
Anyone who has ever felt lonely or depressed understands the lack of motivation and focus that can come along with those feelings, especially when it comes to caring for yourself.
Owning a pet requires you to focus on something else and maintain a certain amount of structure in caring for them. Even if caring for yourself is difficult, a pet needs you to care for them since they are unable to do so on their own.
5. Unconditional love
Your pet doesn’t care about what you look like, how much money you have, what your job is or anything other than being with you. They are happy just because you’re there.
This unconditional love can make us feel accepted and comforted in a way that nothing else can.
Playing with your pet or just being with it can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. This helps promote feelings of calm and relaxation. It also can help reduce stress hormones like cortisol, reducing inflammation within the body.
7. Overall Health
Forget eating an apple a day. Studies have shown that having a pet decreases visits to the doctor’s office, especially in older adults.
This goes beyond the additional exercise that pet owners are likely to get — although that certainly plays a role in staying healthy. The connection you develop with your pets and the love you feel can motivate you to adopt an overall healthier lifestyle so that you can care for them.
Although the benefit of pets and support animals is clear, it isn’t always feasible for everyone. Some people don’t have time, money or the space to own a pet of any kind.
In cases like this, there are alternatives. You can offer to walk or watch a neighbor’s pet, volunteer at an animal shelter or find out how you can assist organizations that specialize in support animals.
Just being around an animal, even for a short time, can have a profoundly positive effect on a person’s mental state and outlook. This is one of the reasons why so many hospitals are now utilizing support animals as part of their treatment.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their lives and relationships better.