As the pandemic hit, many people across Scotland and the UK began working from home and we got the opportunity to meet our colleague’s human family members and their pets as well. With every guest appearance at virtual meetings, everyone in attendance couldn’t help but smile.
According to an article in the Guardian, more than 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet since the start of lockdown and many have reported an improvement in their mental health as a result. Whether it be to provide companionship or to help get fit, we all know our furry (and sometimes not-so furry) creatures can always cheer us up.
While our pets never fail to make us smile, many people aren’t aware of why they make us smile and the ways pets can support our mental health. Over time, our pets become attuned to our behaviours & emotions, they help to create & maintain a structured daily routine and provide companionship.
When our mental health is negatively impacted, pets can help to ease unwanted feelings by providing comfort or a judgment-free ear to listen. Spending time with your pet playing, cuddling, or stroking them can provide almost instant relief from stress and anxiety through the release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine (feel-good chemicals in your brain). An Israeli study showed that holding an animal helps to reduce stress levels in adults and that the type of animal made no significant impact. The same response was seen with a tortoise as with a rabbit, so fluffiness isn’t always a necessity!
Pets rely on us to provide them with food, love, and entertainment. This can help bring structure to our days, and routine benefits both you and your pet. A routine can help keep you feeling grounded and give a sense of purpose to your day. Part of a good routine is regular exercise through walks or play sessions. These help build a bond with our pets but can improve physical & mental health too. Walks or play sessions are great fun, but can also provide social interactions. Most dogs can’t walk past each other without the obligatory sniff to say hello and as a result, owners are more likely to engage and socialise.
And most important of all, pets provide us with unconditional love. They don’t care if you have the latest gadgets or if the house is messy or that you don’t feel your best, all they want is to feel like part of the pack and for the pack to be safe and happy.
So during Mental Health Awareness week, spend some time with an animal. Cuddle your pets, take them on an extra big walk in the sunshine or spend some time playing in the garden. If you don’t have a pet of your own go walking with a friend and their dog, offer to pet sit for a few hours or find a local Pet Café and enjoy some snuggles with a coffee!