If you are an animal lover, you don’t need evidence to back up the assertion that pets are good healers for mental illness sufferers. You already know that just cuddling with your pet can really calm you down when your anxiety is at a fever pitch. But there is actual scientific research that shows the benefits of having a pet if you are an Anxiety Sister. Here is a sample of some of those benefits:
- Mental disorders are isolating. Having the companionship of an animal decreases feelings of loneliness. I know that talking with my cats always makes me feel like I’m in good company (better company than some humans, truth be told).
- Stroking an animal lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
- The purr of a cat, particularly when the cat is on the owner’s lap (or head), is very soothing and meditative and has been shown to deepen respiration in humans.
- Interaction with friendly dogs stimulates the body’s production of Oxytocin, a feel-good hormone known to reduce anxiety, and reduces Cortisol, a stress hormone, in both humans and (The same holds true for friendly cats and, I imagine, friendly ferrets.)
- Caring for a pet promotes feelings of self-worth and establishes routines (feeding, walking, grooming, etc.) both of which have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.
- Social anxiety sufferers report fewer symptoms when their dogs accompany them in social situations.
- Playing with pets offers an excellent distraction when the mind begins to spin out of control. Focusing your attention on your pet can get you “out of your head” and keep you grounded in reality.
In a recent (2015) study done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 650 children, half with pet dogs and half without, were observed for 18 months. The results showed that the kids with dogs had significantly reduced anxiety, particularly separation and social anxiety. So if you’re not sure if a pet can soothe your anxiety, you may want to consider the benefits for your kids (also pets are great playmates for kids so you don’t have to spend as much time crashing cars into each other on the dining room table or making tea for 12 stuffed animals).