The past decade has redefined how people look at mental health. From children to adults, this focus on mental wellness has become a key factor in how we manage our lives.
Though recent years have made it mainstream, with experts in every field trying to gain insight into the mind, the concept is far from new. In fact, research on the correlation between pets and mental health goes back thirty years or more.
In the 90s, psychologist Alan Beck and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher carried out a study to explore the direct effect of petting a dog on the human body. Study participants showed clear signs of decreased stress; their muscles relaxed, blood pressure lowered, breathing improved, and heart rate slowed.
Since then, researchers have gained a lot of insight into the therapeutic benefits of owning a pet. For this reason, we have pulled together 10 of the top benefits to help you decide if owning a pet may help you improve your mental wellbeing.
1. Pet therapy speeds up mental illness recovery
Animal-assisted therapy programs use horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, and even fish to help individuals struggling with emotional and mental distress. These strategies are based on the findings from research studies on the medical effects of having a pet on people with existing mental health concerns.
In these studies, pets allowed participants to overcome their emotional turmoil by giving them something outside of themselves to devote their energies toward. Being occupied on a day-to-day basis shifted their mental focus away from themselves while helping them gain perspective.
In a 2016 study conducted by the University of Manchester, researchers interviewed 54 participants suffering from depression, schizophrenia, BPD, and post-traumatic stress disorder. By the end of the survey results showed that 50 per cent of participants claimed their pets helped them cope on a daily basis and manage their conditions. On the one hand, the pets brought out positive emotions in pet owners like stronger feelings of identity, security, self-worth, and control and on the other, they distracted participants from symptoms like internalization, self-harm, and suicidal thought patterns.
For many people struggling with depression, pets provide a level of unconditional love and support they aren’t getting from friends and family. A participant in the study stated that when they got stuck in a mental loop of suicidal thoughts, part of what helped them breakthrough was the thought that their rabbits needed them. That feeling of being essential in another living creature’s life is a strong motivator for recovery.
2. Looking after a pet helps you develop positive habits
Often people’s mental health impacts their ability to take care of themselves. For example, a person suffering from depression may find it impossible to gather the energy to go for a run, much less prepare meals or tend to the laundry. Despite wanting to exercise because they know it will help them, their mind is working against them. Part of the reason pets are so effective in strengthening the mind is because they push the focus away from ourselves.
When you own a dog, you feel a responsibility towards them so you will take them to the park even on days you don’t want to. You may not want to get out of bed in the morning, but you will do it if you need to feed your cats and then you’re twice as likely to feed yourself, too. Pet parents quickly realize the importance of having a routine with daily exercise and regular meal times, which are things people with mental illnesses struggle to maintain.
As a result, you start developing a routine that gives your body the benefits of exercise and regular meals. Pets push you into the world and force you to interact with nature in a productive manner. No matter how depressed or anxious you are, if you’re a pet parent, you need to wake up, get out of bed, feed, socialise with, and exercise your pets.
3. Pets help children avoid anxiety
A study conducted by the CDC explores the benefits of owning a pet on children. All 643 children had similar BMIs, daily exercise levels, and computer usage, but around 50 per cent of them also had dogs. All of the participants were screened for anxiety. When compared, results showed that 21 per cent of the children without dogs had anxiety troubles while only 12 per cent of the participants with dogs had anxiety.
The researchers concluded that the presence of dogs in the home clearly had a positive impact on the mental health of the children. This is one of many studies that suggest a direct correlation between pets and children’s wellness. Other studies link pet presence to independence in children, specifically in reducing separation anxiety. For working parents, having a pet around makes it easier for children to cope in their absence by giving them a sense of security.
When children grow up with the constant love and affection of a pet, they are more likely to develop a positive self-image. This emotional attachment teaches them to care for the feelings of others and results in a stronger ability to form healthy bonds and relationships as teens and adults.
Many children talk to their pets, and that gives them a sounding board while they develop thought patterns. Similarly, the process of teaching their pet a trick can stimulate a child’s mind.
Continue reading the full and original article from: Lifetime Pet Cover
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