“Everybody needs somebody,” but does that have to be another person?
Having a strong support system can promote general well-being and better mental health. Support systems can look a lot of different ways. Typically, when considering who one views as supports, we might think of friends, family, partners, coworkers, therapists/professionals; however, we cannot discount our furry friends!
Research shows that having pets can boost one’s mental health. Here are some ways our pets can serve as supports:
As the saying goes, “a dog is a man’s best friend.” Whether you have a pet who greets you at the door when you return home or an animal who tags along with you throughout the day, pets can provide friendship and judgment-free support to us. Further, pets can be especially beneficial in combatting loneliness for individuals who work from home or live alone.
Animals have instinctual abilities that help them pick up on emotions in the environment. Some studies have noted that when animals notice a stranger in distress, they themselves may become distressed, or when the animal recognizes that someone familiar is upset, they may try to comfort them. For example, if you are going through a difficult time and start to cry, your pet might try to offer you comfort by nuzzling, whining, licking, or laying their head in your lap.
3. Stress Relief
Owning pets has been linked with various health benefits, including lower cortisol levels, which is the “stress hormone,” and increased levels of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, or the “happy hormones.” The American Heart Association has also said that petting animals can lower your blood pressure.
Some pets require routines that incorporate exercise. For example, taking your dog for a walk not only provides mental stimulation, physical activity, and chances for socialization to your pet but also to you. Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for mental health, and by association, pet owners can reap the benefits of physical play with their animals.
5. Increase Supports
By owning a pet, a person may naturally encounter more opportunities for socialization and broadening their support system. Pet owners have unique opportunities to meet other pet owners at places like dog parks. Further, pet-friendly workplaces are on the rise, and bringing one’s pet to work can create opportunities for both increased productivity and camaraderie.
Written By Kathleen Roszyk, M.S.