If you're on the fence about welcoming a four-legged friend into your life, news that pets are good for your mental health just might be the push you need to make the commitment. A recent study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry found that pets helped people better manage their feelings and provided much-needed distractions from upsetting experiences. "The people we spoke to through the course of this study felt their pet played a range of positive roles such as helping them to manage stigma associated with their mental health by providing acceptance without judgement," Dr Helen Brooks, lead author of the study, explained in a press release on Bio Med Central.
If you have an animal companion, then you know that your pet will never judge you for struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other mental health condition. Plus, they can also help you calm down when it feels like you're spiraling out. "Pets were also considered particularly useful during times of crisis," Dr. Brooks noted. "In this way, pets provided a unique form of validation through unconditional support, which [people] were often not receiving from other family or social relationships."
Personally, my dogs have saved me from myself on a number of occasions, and some days I feel like I owe them everything. Caring for them has forced me to get out of bed when I want to do anything but. It's motivated me to go for walks or to the beach when I just want to hide in my room, and it's helped me take the focus off of myself when I feel like I'm falling into a black hole of depression.
While pet parents already know the value their four-leggers add to their lives, the medical community is still catching up. But, that might be changing. In BMC Psychiatry, the study concluded that "Pets should be considered a main rather than a marginal source of support in the management of long-term mental health problems." Because, no matter what you're going through, when you have a pet you are never alone. Pets provide a friendly ear, a warm body, and a window into pure joy because pets are almost always happy.
In the study, participants, all of whom had been diagnosed with mental-health conditions, were asked to rank the importance of their pets in their social circle. More than 60 percent of people ranked their pet in the first, or most central, circle citing that their pets distracted them from sorrow and upsetting thoughts, including suicidal ideation.
"You just want to sink into a pit and just sort of retreat from the entire world, [...] the cats force me to sort of still be involved with the world," one study participant is quoted as saying on Bio Med Central. Another noted, "When I’m feeling really low they [pets] are wonderful because they won’t leave my side for two days."
The study explained that the evidence that pet therapy works could shift the mental health treatment paradigm and prompt practitioners to explore alternatives to medication and talk therapy for people seeking help for mental health issues. Because, currently, pet therapy is often overlooked. "Despite the identified benefits of pet ownership, pets were neither considered nor incorporated into the individual care plans for any of the people in our study," Dr. Brooks noted.
While a lot of people have emotional support dogs, any type of pet can improve your mental health. Whether you have a lizard, a bird, a turtle, a dog, cat, or even a fish, pets can make life worth living when everything feels like one big dumpster fire, and they just might be considered therapy option for mental health practitioners. If you already have a pet, think about how often you to talk to them like they are a person. And, talking to a non-judgmental being almost always makes you feel just a little bit better.
"Taking more creative approaches to care planning, such as incorporating discussions about pets, may be one way of helping to better involve participants because of the value, meaning and engagement that individuals have with their companion animals," Bio Med Central reported. Seriously, it's about time pets got the props they deserve. Aside from making your feel better, your pets will keep your secrets for life, and they'll never talk behind your back. They're actually a great model for how humans should behave.
If you absolutely can't have a pet, plants can also be beneficial to your mental health, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. The study found that "active interaction with indoor plants can reduce physiological and psychological stress compared with mental work. This is accomplished through suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotion of comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings." While a plant won't lick your face, plenty of people talk to their plants. And, just like pets, plants will keep all of your secrets.