According to the American Psychological Association, pets improve the mental and emotional health of "everyday people", and not just those who've been traumatized, or are facing serious health challenges. In fact, they found that ordinary people who own pets tend to be more outgoing, less lonely, less fearful, and less preoccupied than those who don't have pets. And the positive effects didn't stop there.
Pet owners also have greater self-esteem and are more physically fit than those without pets.
While the positive effects on the emotional health of those facing daunting health challenges have long been recognized, the most recent studies show that the benefits of pet ownership aren't limited to that group, but apply to people from all walks of life regardless of age.
Danielle Hark, a life coach and mental health advocate, concurs and offers several possible reasons for the positive mental effects of pet ownership:
- They get people outside, where mood is improved by fresh air, sunshine and connecting with nature. Sunlight gives us an extra dose of Vitamin D, which is shown to elevate mood and reduce depression, and the sounds and feelings of nature itself have a calming effect on the psyche.
- They get you moving. Taking your dog for a walk, tossing a Frisbee or a ball are activities that give you a boost of energy and help expel tension. It also makes you feel better physically, and when your body feels good, it can make you less susceptible to these issues as well, according to the CDC.
- They distract you while simultaneously keeping your mind focused on the present. When you're engaging with your pet, you're not obsessing about whatever is plaguing you at the moment.
- They alleviate loneliness. Because pets are so intuitive, they make great companions. They have a tendency to seek you out when you're feeling down, refusing to let you be alone. They don't judge you, and they give you unconditional love.
- They give purpose to your life. Caring for a pet (or another human being for that matter) takes your mind off of yourself and your troubles. Your pet is appreciative of your affection and of all the things you do for him, such as feeding him, playing with him, caring for him when he's "under the weather", etc. His positive response to your efforts will give you a little instant gratification.
Another important benefit that pets can provide is fulfilling the need for touch. Most of us feel better by having physical contact with others. Research has shown that simply petting a cat or a dog can lower blood pressure and make you feel calmer.
Next time you're feeling anxious or down, spend some time with your pet and reap some real emotional benefits along with a generous dose of love and affection!
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