7 Powerful Ways How Pets Improve Your Mental HealthSep 17, 2022
Did you know that pets can help improve mental health? It's true! Pets offer us many benefits, including companionship, unconditional love, and support which in turn help to improve our mental health.
In this blog post that covers some excerpts of my award-winning book Your Pet, Your Pill®. 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life, we discuss how pets help mental health and what to look for if you think a pet might be to look forward to. We will also include scientific studies and resources that show the benefits of owning a pet. So read on to learn more about the amazing ways pets can help improve our mental health!
1. Pets' Power against Loneliness
The problem of Loneliness Worldwide
Do you feel lonely? You are not alone! In today's world, loneliness has become a major problem due to an aging population and decreasing family bonds in many countries worldwide.
Loneliness is the discrepancy between one’s desired and actual level of social connection. It is especially prevalent among older adults. Research has shown that loneliness leads to reduced physical health. Depression, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, declines in mobility and daily function, increased risk of early death, and even suicide attempts are associated with loneliness. People with poor health and mood disorders like anxiety and depression are more susceptible to feeling lonely.
In addition, the Covid 19 lockdown resulted in a worldwide “mental health tsunami” due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, according to the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. According to research, loneliness is linked to poorer physical health, too.
Loneliness on the rise
According to a Cigna Insurance study of over 20,000 Americans conducted in 2018, 46% of respondents sometimes or always feel lonely; 47% believe they are being left out, and 20% answered that they never or rarely feel close to people. A staggering number (18%) think they have no one they can talk to. Interestingly, Generation Z members (those aged 18-22) perceive themselves as the loneliest generation. They claim to be in worse condition than previous generations, but independent research suggests the opposite.
Pets as Weapon Against Loneliness
A study by Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) found that 61% of Americans either feel lonely or socially isolated. Some 85% of respondents believe interaction with companion animals can help reduce loneliness and according to 76%, human-pet interactions can help address social isolation. Another 72% state that human-animal interaction is good for their community
The most popular reason for people to suggest pet ownership to others, according to our survey, was addressing loneliness. A staggering 89 percent of participants in the study got a pet and stated that their animal had helped them feel less lonely. Three in four pet owners who acquired pets for reasons other than loneliness felt their companion reduced their feelings of isolation. Research found that 90% of people above 55 years of age believe pets can help older adults feel less lonely.
In general, those who have the closest relationships with their dogs experience the most beneficial feelings of isolation. This confirms our common belief that having pets improve our happiness because they chase away our loneliness.
2. Pets' Power against Social Isolation
What is Social Isolation?
We all have social needs that we need to have fulfilled to live a happy life and feel well. According on the Institute of Medicine (US) Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, social isolation is defined as a lack of social interactions. This includes a scarcity of contacts and relationships with family and friends, neighbors, and the larger society. Social isolation, on the other hand, is more closely related to quality than the number of social interactions. There are major health risks associated with social isolation, such as smoking cigarettes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Growing Social Isolation
According to the AARP Foundation, social isolation presently affects more than eight million Americans aged fifty and over. With ten thousand Americans retiring each day, this number continues to grow. People often feel isolated because they live alone; however, other factors such as geographic location or disability can contribute to decreased social connections in older age groups.
According to a Cigna Insurance study, two out of five Americans (43%) sometimes or always believe their connections are not significant. They live alone and disconnected from others. On a daily basis, only 53 percent of Americans engage in meaningful in-person social interactions.
Pets' Help against Social isolation
This is where the benefits of having pets come in. Some 54% of respondents of the Mars Petcare and the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) study said that their pet helps them to connect with other people. An overwhelming majority, 76%, agree that human-animal interactions can help with social isolation. If you find it tough to connect with other people, especially those you don't know well, pets can be icebreakers and provide an opportunity for socializing.
Research suggests that people are more likely to engage with strangers if there is a pet present. This is especially true for dog owners, who commonly interact with other dog owners and people while out walking their dogs. In fact, you are much more likely to meet like-minded individuals when you are walking your dog than at any other time. Science indicates that pet owners tend to trust people more after meeting and befriending them through their pets.
Not only does human-animal interaction leads to happiness, but it also has a positive impact on communities. According to the Mars Petcare and HABRI study, 72% of people believe that human-animal interaction is good for their community. Additionally, 73% of those surveyed believe nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have a degree of responsibility to foster pet interaction. This would have a major positive impact on the senior population.
Owning a dog is the way to it according to a study as dog owners have their social needs more fulfilled than people without pets. Owners who felt more confident in their abilities to meet their well-being goals were more likely to be satisfied with the results of those objectives. Through their dog, they felt a stronger link between owner well-being and experienced the fulfillment of their effectively social needs than they did through human relationships. Surprisingly, the assistance that pets gave to owners didn't compete with the help from other connections and bolstered it.
3. Pets' Power for Our Mental Health
Increase in Mental Health Problems
Mental health is an increasingly relevant topic in today's society. According to research, In the UK, 1 in 4 individuals suffer from mental health problems annually, but only one-eighth of those people receive medical attention. This is especially prevalent among young women, as they are more likely to experience mental health issues.
Pet's Support for Mental Health
Pets can aid our mental health. According to a survey of pet owners, 26% said their pets helped them cope with stress (as evidence3). More than twice as many respondents over the age of 55 claimed they were obtaining a pet to assist them to battle mental illness (55%). The Mental Health Foundation found that 87 percent of cat owners felt their cats had a beneficial influence on their well-being. Some 76% stated that having a feline friend made it easier for them to manage daily life.
Pets aren't just cute and cuddly-- they can actually help improve your mental health. A study showed that 26% of pet owners felt better mentally because of their pets, and 55% of respondents aged 55 and up said they got a pet specifically to help with mental illness.
The study found that more than 76% of cat owners felt their cat had a beneficial influence on their wellbeing, which was associated with an improvement in coping mechanisms for over 75% of respondents. In fact, some said they could deal with everyday issues much better thanks to their feline companions.
Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, found in a survey of 4,565 participants that dog owners were 12% less neurotic than cat owners. Neurotic people are described as being easily stressed and suffering from anxiety and worries.
4. Pets' Power against Depression
Facts about Depression
Depression is a mental illness that is characterized by feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. It can also lead to physical problems such as sleep disorders and fatigue. According to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people suffer from depression globally. In 2014, 22.5% of women in the UK suffered from depression which is much higher than the worldwide number of 3.4%.
Pets' Impact on Non-Clinical Depression
Pets can play an important role in mental health, particularly when it comes to depression. Research studies prove that pets in general have been shown to be effective antidotes to depression. In one study, participants who had never owned a pet were asked to imagine themselves owning either a dog or a cat. The results showed that those who imagined owning a dog had fewer negative mental states associated with depression than those who imagined owning a cat.
Another study found that people who had recently lost their job and were feeling depressed found more comfort in interacting with their pets than with other humans. The participants reported feeling calmer and less anxious after spending time with their pets.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a depressive disorder. Sometimes we suffer from mood swings and look at everything around us in a negative way. In a survey of hospital patients, 90% of respondents said that spending time with pets improved their mood.
Pets' Impact on Clinical Depression
Pets can also provide support for people suffering from clinical depression. One study found that psychiatric patients who spent time with therapy dogs experienced decreases in anxiety and cortisol levels. They also reported improvements in mood and self-esteem.
5. Pets' Power for Hormonal Increase
Oxytocin - The Love Hormone
Do you want to increase your love hormones? No need to get a lover—get a pet! Oxytocin, often known as the "love hormone" or "cuddle hormone," is a neurotransmitter that may be released from the pituitary gland into the brain and circulation through tactile stimulation, stroking, warmth, labor, sex, and nursing.
Oxytocin has been shown to improve social skills, increase trust and generosity, and enhance self-perception. It can also lower levels of depression, stress, and anxiety. Oxytocin works by increasing empathy, and eye contact. A recent research study showed that just three minutes of stroking a dog was enough to raise oxytocin levels in both people and dogs.
The relationship between an owner and their dog can have some amazing benefits, like increasing levels of oxytocin. This is especially true for women, who seem to benefit more from physical contact than men do. So if you're looking for a cuddle buddy, getting a dog might just be the key to happiness!
Dopamine - The Happy Hormone
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. It plays a role in motivation, learning, and movement. Dopamine is often referred to as the "happy hormone" because it helps us feel pleasure and happiness.
Pets can increase dopamine levels in several ways. For example, just seeing your pet can boost dopamine levels. In one study, participants who looked at pictures of their dogs showed increases in dopamine compared to those who looked at pictures of unfamiliar dogs or objects. Another study found that simply thinking about your pet can also lead to increases in dopamine.
According to research, after just five minutes with an animal, some people experience increased levels of dopamine. Women may even benefit more from physical interaction with animals than men.
Endorphins - Natural Painkillers
Endorphins are natural hormones produced by the body whose chemical structure is similar to that of the drug morphine; they are therefore considered natural painkillers in the body. Their function is to activate opioid receptors in the brain, thus reducing pain. They can also produce a feeling of euphoria, or "runner's high." Endorphins are released in response to pain, stress, and exercise.
Pets can help increase endorphin levels in several ways. For example, just stroking a pet has been shown to increase endorphin levels. In one study, participants who spent time with therapy dogs had increases in endorphins compared to those who didn't interact with dogs. Another study found that simply looking at pictures of your pet can lead to increases in endorphins.
Research shows that even five minutes with an animal increases our level of endorphins. Endorphins are natural hormones produced by the body.
Serotonin - The Calm Hormone
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, sleep, and appetite. It's often referred to as the "calm hormone" because it has a calming effect on the body.
Pets can help increase serotonin levels in several ways. For example, just stroking a pet has been shown to increase serotonin levels. In one study, participants who spent time with therapy dogs had increases in serotonin compared to those who didn't interact with dogs. Another study found that simply looking at pictures of your pet can lead to increases in serotonin.
6. Pets' Power for Stress Reduction
Definition of Stress
Stress is defined as a mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress is one of the major factors for poor health and unhappiness. Many physiological ailments derive from stress, which negatively impacts our lives.
Cortisol - The Stress Hormone
Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal cortex in response to stress. When released, it increases blood sugar levels, suppresses the immune system, and slows down digestive processes. Cortisol is essential for survival; however, when present at high levels, it can have negative effects on health. When we are very much stressed, our stress hormone cortisol increases.
Pets as Stress Reducer
Pets can help reduce cortisol levels in several ways. For example, just stroking a pet has been shown to decrease cortisol levels. In one study, participants who spent time with therapy dogs had decreases in cortisol compared to those who didn't interact with dogs. Another study found that simply looking at pictures of your pet can lead to decreases in cortisol.
Research shows that even five minutes with an animal can decrease our level of cortisol. In fact, one study found that just six weeks after getting a dog, people had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
A study found that people working on a stressful task experienced significantly less stress when their pets were with them than when a spouse, family member, or close friend was nearby. A pet, especially a dog, helps people reduce their perceived stress compared with people without pets. Additionally, pets in the workplace buffer the impact of stress during the workday than their owners.
A study of women showed that significantly lower cortisol levels were present when participants interacted with dogs. It might take even only ten minutes of stroking a pet to reduce the cortisol. Therefore, pets are our best de-stress boosts!
7. Pets' Power for Better Sleep
Pets as Help against Insomnia
Pets can also help reduce anxiety and insomnia. One study found that people with insomnia who spent time with therapy dogs had significantly lower levels of anxiety and insomnia compared to those who didn't interact with dogs. Another study found that dog owners were more likely to get a good night's sleep than non-dog owners. And, dog owners were less likely to experience nightmares or night terrors.
Pets in the Bedroom
Many people who sleep with their pets report feeling calmer and more secure when they sleep, which leads to improved sleep quality. One study found that people who slept with their dogs had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and felt more relaxed than those who didn't sleep with their dogs.
According to a recent study, over half of the pet owners allow their furry friends to sleep in the bedroom. Of those, 41% said they actually slept better and felt less disturbed. The best nights of sleep were had when pets were in the room but not on the bed.
Do you feel more comfortable sleeping in the same bed as your spouse? Think again because cats in the bed aid sleep better than your partner; this is especially true for women. What's the reason for this? Cats enjoy snuggling with their humans.
More Information About How Pets Help Humans
Looking for more amazing information on how pets can help humans? Then take a look at my award-winning book Your Pet, Your Pill®. 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life details lots of information about the benefits of pets for humans for our health, happiness, and even success.
Whether in lockdown or not, pets improve our physical and mental well-being to a tremendous extent.
It is no surprise that people who own pets tend to have lower blood pressure and longer lifespans, on average, than those who do not. Owning a pet can decrease anxiety, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your overall mental well-being. Pets provide us with companionship, which has been linked with mental health benefits like decreased anxiety and depression, as well as increased self-esteem and feelings of social support.
Why spend money on expensive wellness treatments that just last one hour or a day? Our pets are not just our best friends and companions, they are also our best wellness retreats for life!
Dr. Margit is a Certified Mental Health Coach specializing in Inner Dynamics, Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation ICF, Master Life Coach, NLP Master, Certified Mindfulness Practitioner, award-winning author, sought-after speaker, and falcon doctor.
She's passionate about helping businesswomen with childhood parental mental illness trauma by supporting them by "Making peace with your past" online course with private coaching sessions and creating a new positive, empowered, resilient, and authentic YOU in three months.
Dr. Margit hosts a free biweekly mindfulness and meditation group called "Peaceful Mind Group" that is delivered virtual via zoom.
Dr. Margit believes that coaching with pets and horses opens the way to a new kind of empowerment and healing. Her award-winning and inspirational book Your Pet, Your Pill™: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to a Happy, Healthy and Successful Life enchants, motivates, enlightens, and fascinates the readers with stories full of inspiration and positivity.