The companionship that a pet offers is a great way to help reduce stress and anxiety. They can be a great source of comfort and motivation for their owners. In many ways, pets can help us to live mentally healthier lives.
PETS AND DEPRESSION
Pets are a great motivator for people. Dogs help encourage owners to get exercise, and this can be highly beneficial for those suffering from depression. Pets also have a calming effect, just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet gives us a chance to relax and calm our minds. Caring for a pet also gives your day purpose, reward, a sense of achievement and helps you feel valuable and needed.
PETS AND SOCIALIZING
Walking a dog will often lead to conversations with other dog owners and this helps owners to stay socially connected and less withdrawn. Having a pet can give you a commonality with another person and thus provide a good conversation starter. Who does not love talking about their cat? It has been proven that people who have more social relationships and friendships tend to be mentally healthier.
PETS AND LONELINESS
A pet is great companion. They give owners company, a sense of security and someone to share their daily routine with. Pets can be especially valuable company for elderly people who are living alone.
PETS AND CHILDREN WITH ADHD
Children with ADHD can benefit from working with and keeping a pet. Taking charge of jobs such as feeding, walking and bathing, help children learn responsibility. Playing with a pet is an excellent way to release excess energy. Children can walk with a dog or run around with a kitten, making them more relaxed at night. Fresh air and good circulation from exercise increases oxygen-filled blood flow to the brain, therefore increasing the ability to concentrate. A pet is a great listener, offers unconditional love and will not criticize a child for having too much energy. This can greatly aid a child's self-confidence.
PETS AND AUTISM
Sensory issues are common among children with autism. Sensory integration activities are designed to help them get used to the way something feels against their skin or how it smells or sounds. Dogs and horses have both been used for this purpose. Children with autism often find it calming to work with animals. They help to reduce stereotyped behavior, lessen sensory sensitivity, and increase the desire and ability to connect socially with others.
Pets don’t just make life better. They make it BIGGER! Those of us who have a pet to share our life with know how much they can change everything! From the day that they walk into our lives, every moment all of a sudden seems a little bit brighter. They offer us a love like no one else can, completely unconditional. They are there for us in our deepest hours of need; they listen to us, comfort us, keep our secrets and are our best friends. When Oreo came into my life, everything changed almost instantly. This tiny little sick fluff ball who needed me, I mean REALLY genuinely NEEDED me, suddenly became my reason for being. Knowing that he needed me made me feel important and like I had a purpose.
From a very young age I suffered from extreme anxiety and panic attacks. During my teenage years I developed OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and spent most of my early adulthood battling with both this and depression. Sometimes it seemed they had taken over my whole being and I was incapable of connecting with the rest of the world. I would often be alone, play alone, read alone and think alone even though I was always surrounded by people. I did't like large groups, events, parties and most of the time preferred to stay at home. Then we got a family dog. That was my first taste of what having a four legged best friend was all about and how it could change things entirely. When I moved out of my family’s house to my first apartment, the first thing I did was go to my local SPCA to adopt a cat. I found Sunshine and instantly fell in love. Knowing that she would be there waiting for me when I got home from work each day made all the difference. Slowly I began to feel OK to want to stay home and watch movies alone with my cat. I started to realize that those were the things that made me truly happy. She needed me and I needed her. Now a few months shy of 40 years old, I still occasionally suffer with anxiety, OCD and depression that can often be quite mentally exhausting. I still have problems with large groups and one of the reasons I can no longer work in offices is due to my anxiety and fear or having a panic attack in front of others.
A huge aspect of how Oreo helped me to deal with these issues is with social media. As a more introverted person, I am not generally known to show outward feelings or interact with people. Oreo becoming popular on social media helped me to come out of my shell. I started to feel important and to feel needed by people who follow Oreo’s accounts. When messages from Oreo’s followers started pouring in thanking me for making them smile that day, it really made my heart feel good. It made me feel like I was making a difference somehow. Feeling that helps me to ward off depression, anxiety and helps me to be a stronger person. Being surrounded by Oreo and the other cats also keeps me feeling important and needed. I am able to concentrate on them rather than on anxious feelings. Sure, I still have OCD and I still would rather stay home, but I am OK with that! Having my feline family gives me all the support and contentment I need. It makes me a happier person and in turn it helps me to make others happy, and that’s a BIG thing!
Mental illness of any form, be it OCD or others is NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED ABOUT. We all have had moments of depression, or feeling like we've lost control. I am not ashamed of who I am. I am proud of who I am today and all of you out there should be proud of who you are too! Mental illness is no joke, but regardless, it should be celebrated instead of hidden. It takes an extremely strong individual to deal with any type of mental illness. This month is Mental Health Month. It is time to be proud of who you are and show it off! Be mindful this month of those who suffer with mental illness and let them know they are loved just the way they are! We really are not all that different after all!
Pet's don't just make life better, they make it BIGGER! Together, we can do the same for them!
To better understand mental health issues and their effects please visit: www.cmha.ca
This post is part of the LIVE BIG campaign and has been sponsored by Purina Canada
Additional resources: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/pets-and-mental-health
Tina Modugno is a children’s illustrator from Canada. Tina loves all animals, kids books and cartoons! She currently resides in Quebec with her husband and four cats!