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.
Research on Pets and Mental Health
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.
- Improves breathing and makes it more regular
- Lowers blood pressure and hypertension
- Decreases feelings of stress
- Decreases stress hormones
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Lowers obesity risk
- Increases physical activity
- Lowers cardiovascular response to stress
- Improved longevity for those with cardiovascular issues
How Pets Help Depression
Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness, which can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life. While there are several treatment options available for depression, including medication and therapy, there is a growing body of research that shows how pets can improve mental health naturally, including depression.
As well as providing unconditional love and support, they can help can help alleviate the symptoms of depression without the side effects that come with SSRI medication.
How Pets Help Anxiety
Pets have been shown to have a positive impact on reducing stress levels in their owners. The psycho-social effects of pet dog ownership on children with mental health issues have been the subject of numerous studies. Research has shown that interacting with dogs can have a positive impact on the social and emotional development of children with mental challenges.
The care of pets can also provide a sense of routine and structure, which can be particularly helpful for people with anxiety disorders. They can help to create a calming and soothing environment, which can be especially beneficial during times of stress and anxiety.
Benefits of Pets for Anxiety and Depression
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.
Increased Physical Exercise
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.
Improved Companionship and Decreased Loneliness
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.
Improved Feelings of Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
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.
Pets Improve Communication Skills
Children that have a pet to talk to have better verbal and nonverbal communication skills because they often talk to their pets.
Provide Unconditional Support
Pets are there to love and don’t criticize like a teacher, parent, or a human can.
Builds Emotional Attachment
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.
Lowered Blood Pressure
Numerous studies demonstrate that petting an animal lowers blood pressure in people that are stressed or hypertensive.
Decreases Stress Hormones
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.
Meets Sensory Needs
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.
Lowered Stress Levels
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.
Pets Calm Behavioral Children
Research shows that the use of an animal when a child is distressed helps, which is something that many parents will attest to.
Less Likely to Have Depression
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.
Decreases Your Chance of Anxiety
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.
Increased Positive Brain Chemicals
Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine.
Add Structure and Routine to Your Day
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.
Pets Teach Responsibility
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.
Pets Give Us Something to Look Forward To
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.
Improves Movement and Coordination
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.
Pets Impact on Long Term Mental Health
One meta analysis study (Brooks et. al, 2016) reviewed 17 studies on the use of companion animals to support individuals with long term mental health problems. The studies found that interacting with companion animals, especially dogs, can improve mental health outcomes like reducing anxiety and improving mood. The bond between the animal and their owner was found to be an important factor, and responsible pet ownership and appropriate interventions are crucial. Overall, this evidence suggests that companion animals can be a valuable addition to mental health treatment plans.
Aggarwal, S., Aggarwal, R., Sodhi, M. K., & Aggarwal, S. (2022). Psycho-Social Effects of Pet Dog Ownership on Mentally Challenged Children. Cureus, 14(6), e26389. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.26389
Brooks, H., Rushton, K., Walker, S., Lovell, K., & Rogers, A. (2016). Ontological security and connectivity provided by pets: a study in the self-management of the everyday lives of people diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition. BMC psychiatry, 16(1), 409. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-016-1111-3
Lass-Hennemann, J., Schäfer, S. K., Sopp, M. R., & Michael, T. (2022). The relationship between attachment to pets and mental health: the shared link via attachment to humans. BMC psychiatry, 22(1), 586. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-022-04199-1
Wagner, E., & Pina E Cunha, M. (2021). Dogs at the Workplace: A Multiple Case Study. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 11(1), 89. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010089
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. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.
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