Pet owners experience many stress lowering benefits that improve health conditions as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. Animals can offer emotional support to children and adults with the unconditional love, physical attention, and increased social interactions and engagement they offer.
So how do pets reduce stress and anxiety? Well, the simple act of petting animals has been clinically shown to reduce stress, blood pressure and decrease the probability of anxiety and depression. Dog owners and cat owners may not agree to which pet is the best but they will agree that pets are a wonderful addition to their family.
Kids today face a myriad of stressors that have led to increased levels of mental illness amongst our youth. Stress isn’t something that can be avoided and instead we need to integrate ways to calm the brain to inoculate our children.
Studies show numerous physical health benefits to having pets. Dogs and cats, as well as other animals and even insects as pets have been known to improve physical and mental health.
The mental health benefits of pets for children and adults are many and most children love pets. Kids with special needs or with mental health conditions such as anxiety, social anxiety, OCD, autism, ADHD, and mood disorders can benefit both mentally and physically from having an animal. Just like tools such as meditation, supplements, essential oils, or neurofeedback, pets can help to calm the brain and body whether or not your child has a clinical condition.
The physical and mental health benefits of exercise are countless.
Having pets helps you get out and meet new people and make socialization easier, which is important because isolation often worsens anxiety and depression.
Socializing isn’t easy for kids today and when you struggle with anxiety, depression, OCD, autism, ADHD, or other clinical issues, it is that much harder. Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance for struggling children who really need it during these difficult times.
When we are loved, we simply feel better about ourselves. Pets give so much love and attention to children and that makes them feel good about themselves and can be a partner in their day-to-day learning.
Children that have a pet to talk to have better verbal and nonverbal communication skills because they often talk to their pets.
Pets are there to love and don’t criticize like a teacher, parent, or a human can.
Kids that have pets are more likely to build emotional attachments to humans, which means better relationships with others.
Studies have shown that children who have pets have greater empathy, which is an important characteristic associated with greater sense of wellbeing, success, and socialization.
Pets show you not just unconditional love but show you what it means to fully trust someone too. Human animal interaction can go a long way in helping build that foundation for future trusting relationships.
Numerous studies demonstrate that petting an animal lowers blood pressure in people that are stressed or hypertensive.
When our cortisol levels get activated, we move into a fight or flight response. That means we are stressed and prolonged periods of stress can lead to clinical anxiety and depression.
The sensory component of petting and holding pets meets the sensory needs of children who have clinical issues that cause them to be reactive to sensory input such as smell, taste, sound, visual, and touch.
The mere act of petting an animal lowers stress levels. The combination of sensory needs being met, lowering blood pressure, and the love and attention received by an animal helps to lower stress.
Research shows that the use of an animal when a child is distressed helps, which is something that many parents will attest to.
Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Research shows a reduction in symptoms of depression for people that have pet or therapy dogs.
One study found that having a pet decreased the likelihood of developing clinical anxiety. The constancy of having stress lowering support available all the time, calms the brain and supports the nervous system.
Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine.
It is easy to feel unmotivated and tired when you are depressed or anxious and our pet’s need to give care and attention puts a natural structure in our day.
When you have to care for a pet, you have to plan and take care of it. Those skills can translate to new learning in other areas.
The love and attention that animals give us, give one something to look forward to. That sense of being needed helps to mitigate depressed feelings.
For younger children or children with physical disabilities, pets can help improve independent or assisted movement.
Whether considering getting your anxious child or a child with mood or behavior problems a pet or participating in pet therapy for anxiety or depression, human interactions with animals have many physical and mental health benefits.
Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime.
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She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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