The Pet Effect – How Your Pets Help Your Mental Health

If you have a dog, a cat, or any other furry (or scaly or feathery!) animal in your life, you know first-hand the way that they provide unparalleled companionship. As I write this, my dog is resting his head on me and my cat is only two feet away. There is a special kind of closeness there. We always joke that with our pets, there is no such thing as a personal bubble.

Millions of American households own at least one pet, and for many people, they help to alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. These improvements, along with physical health benefits related to our pets, have been dubbed The Pet Effect.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. To honor this month and help garner discussion around the topic, let’s take a look at some of the ways our four-legged friends can help us when we are feeling down:

Pets Ease Loneliness

Surveys show that 75% of people notice an improvement in their mental health or their loved ones’ mental health from having a pet. Pets offer companionship and unconditional love, even when it seems like no one else will.

Loneliness and isolation can trigger symptoms of depression. Having a companion, even one in animal form, can greatly decrease these feelings and improve mental health. The company of a pet has been shown to help teenagers feel less rejected by their peers, and to help elderly people remain healthier and have stronger cognitive functions. People of all ages benefit from having a friend in their lives.

Having a pet also facilitates many opportunities for socializing with other pet owners. People that love their pets often take up interests and hobbies that involve their animals. You can try taking your dog to a meet up for hikers, or taking your puppy to the park to play with other dogs. These are just a couple of the activities centered around our pets that encourage meeting new people.

They Make Us Feel Needed

When you are feeling depressed, it often takes the form of self doubt. You may feel like no one cares about you. Research has shown that caring for someone else can greatly negate these feelings.

When you have a pet, you are responsible for taking care of them. They rely on you, because they can’t do it on their own. This fosters a sense of responsibility and meaning, and can increase our sense of self worth.

A study from 2016 showed that people can feel these effects even if the pets don’t require much care. Elderly people were tasked with caring for 5 crickets in a cage for 8 weeks, and just the act of feeding them was shown to boost their moods. The simple act of caring for others, even those that don’t require much interaction, helps to give us a sense of purpose and belonging.

Pets Help Create Routine

Pets encourage regular schedules for feeding, exercising, and cleaning. When you are feeling depressed, taking care of your pet can be a motivating reason to get out of bed in the morning. Having a set routine can also help to calm feelings of anxiety.

Having a dog also encourages healthy habits and physical movement. They require walks or even more vigorous forms of exercise. Studies show that dog owners are far more likely than average to meet daily guidelines for physical activity. Being active and getting more exercise can help to combat many symptoms of anxiety and depression by releasing endorphins.

They Reduce Stress

The love and affection of an animal produces a calming effect. Sensory relief (the reduction of stress from touch and movement) when petting an animal can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, while playing with them releases serotonin and dopamine into our brain. On top of that, the unconditional love that we perceive from our pets has been shown to release oxytocin.

Have you ever been sad or crying, only to have your pet get close to you and seemingly try to comfort you? They seem to understand our anxiety and pain, and that can go a long way towards helping us to feel better.

Obi (Left) and Brady (Right)

Owning a Pet is a Big Commitment

It is important to note that while pets can be a great help and a motivating force for those who have them, they are not the best choice for everyone. They take money, energy, and a lot of time. If you are worried or feel you are not ready for the responsibility of pet ownership, that is completely understandable! Please don’t rush into the commitment of a new pet if you are anything less than 100% sure, or both you and the animal could suffer.

The good news is, you can gain many of the social and stress relieving benefits without having a pet yourself. You can cuddle with a friend’s cat or play with a neighbor’s dog. Local shelters always need volunteers to assist with adoptions or to take the dogs on walks. Volunteering has the added bonus of feeling like you are making a difference.

When it comes down to it, we have a lot to gain from loving animals. How have your pets helped you? Have you noticed any benefits from exercising, caring for them, or being loved loved in return?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Stay tuned for more posts on the topics of affordable mental health care, tools to manage symptoms, and thought problems to address. Remember, you are not alone, and we are all in this together. Speaking about it is the first step to getting better. If you or a loved one needs urgent help, please consider reaching out:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline – 1-877-726-4727  

Overcoming Fear of Failure

It’s tough, but we can do it.

Addressing the Fear

I often have the feeling that life is quickly passing by, while I watch from the sidelines, too scared to jump in. Like many people, I have always been deeply afraid of failure. This fear has held me back from trying my best at things, and from taking risks when I couldn’t predict the outcome. I am afraid of shame and humiliation that comes with taking a leap but missing the ledge. I am also afraid of being bad at something I enjoy.

It embarrasses me to think that someone might look at me and judge me as anything less than talented or successful from the start. But why have I spent my life caring so much about what other people think?

Getting Over It

Fear of failure often boils down to a couple of things: fear of the unknown, and fear of being judged. We can’t control the future, and there will always be an “unknown,” but we can control how we react to other people. We can also curb the shame we feel about being judged, and learn that it is what we think of ourselves that matters.

It is easier said than done, but we have to stop caring what other people think. If you continue to fear what others will think of your failures, you will waste a lot of your life being too afraid to do what really makes you happy. You are your own worst critic, and how would you judge yourself if you go through life and never do your thing?

Making Your Move

Here is the truth: you just have to do something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect. But whatever you are thinking of- the end goal that you are imagining- it won’t happen if you don’t make that first effort. And after that, you may have to make a LOT of effort, just to work something out. And your thing, the product of all this effort you make, it might fail. You might go through two-thousand more ideas and five more business ventures before you ever have a modicum of success, monetary gain, or recognition.

And that is okay. When it doesn’t work out, there is always the next time. And every single failure is a stepping stone on your personal path of growth, clarity, and confidence. All of these traits help to make you a better person than you were before. Once you realize this, anything feels possible, and it becomes a whole lot easier to make a move. Failure won’t be the end of your story, just a chapter in your book. It isn’t something to be embarrassed of or ashamed by. Failing is just one part of a well-balanced, fulfilling life.

Trying Again

Stephen McCranie once said: “The difference between a master and a beginner is that the master has failed more than the beginner has ever tried.” Don’t be afraid to go out there and start failing at something today. Before you know it, you will be great at your thing.

People are not quick to advertise their failures, but everyone has them. On social media, you don’t see the struggles everyone faces behind their successful accounts, happy posts, and curated images.

The people that you look up to have tried many different things many times to get where they are, and that ambition and courage is a part of why you venerate them. Next time that you feel frustrated or like giving up, remember that you are not alone. Please try again! You won’t regret it when you do.