In 2011, the number of dogs in Seattle was greater than the number of children: 153,000 dogs to 107,000 children. That’s about 1.4 dogs for every child.
With more and more people waiting to have children, this doesn’t come as a particular shock.
However, it may come as a surprise that there are real health benefits to be gained just by having a four-legged friend around the house.
With rising levels of anxiety and depression from this generation to the next, many are turning to emotional support animals to ease their symptoms. While not a cure-all, many people report that their ESA companions have “changed their lives”.
In addition to easing the symptoms of mental illnesses, animals also provide other amazing health benefits, including a stronger heart, lower cholesterol, and even being less likely to report feeling lonely.
Pets Are Good For Your Health
Numerous studies show that pets can increase fitness levels, relieve stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and boost overall happiness and well-being.
Pets also provide social support, which is an important factor in helping you stick with new healthy habits.
Stroking your pet can release anxiety, and even just watching fish swim around can help ease tension.
Playing with your pet has been known to raise your brain’s “feel-good chemicals,” such as serotonin and dopamine. This could be the reason people with pets recover faster from trauma. It would explain the wide usage of therapy animals in hospitals.
Pets are also responsible for getting you up and moving. Exercise and fresh air have long been known to have extraordinary health benefits, both physically and mentally.
Being outside and being mindful of your surroundings and engaged with your pet can also put your in “direct mode,” where you forget about everything else going on.
How Does Having A Pet Create These Health Benefits?
Why do animals seem to have this almost mystic ability to provide a calming aura?
Firstly, our pets don’t judge us.
No matter how their day was, they are generally happy to see you walk in the door. We don’t have to worry about what we are wearing, or what we look like.
If we’re happy, they’re happy. If we’re sad, they’re there for a snuggle, without passing any judgment of our emotional needs and reactions.
It is much easier to be in the present and to appreciate what is happening around you when you are not worrying.
Worrying about how your mood will affect others, worrying about judgment, worrying about how our actions and words are going to be perceived by others… None these factors that we habitually worry about come to mind when we interact with pets.
Pets take that worry out of the occasion. They love unconditionally.
That kind of connection and love can be hard to find in our human counterparts, so that the emotional support system that they provide can prove invaluable.
Pets Affect The Inner Workings Of Our Minds
Neuro-scientists describe two different modes that our brains could be operating in, narrative mode, and direct mode.
Interacting with pets almost automatically puts us into direct mode.
“Neuro-scientists refer to ‘direct’ mode when we pay attention directly to our senses, as opposed to ‘narrative’ mode when we’re caught up in our own inner narrative or thoughts. Unsurprisingly, there is a powerful and positive correlation between being in direct mode and being happy.”
Pets make us happy and more mindful because interacting with them requires us to use our senses.
Since pets cannot “talk,” in the same way that we can, we are forced to watch for cues and pay close attention to them in order to communicate with them.
When we are engaged and concentrating on a particular task, there is no room for that inner dialog that reminds us of the negatives and worries that may be there.
Convincing your dog to bring back the ball, or figuring out if your cat is hungry or just wants to be petted, requires focus.
Focusing on our pets puts us in direct mode, in which overall mood is elevated.
Pets Teach Us To Appreciate The Passage Of Time
As pet owners, we are self-aware and know, even if sub-consciously, how short our pets’ lifespans are.
“6 years old? Wow, that’s about 42 in human years.” Thoughts like this make us evaluate how we are spending our time.
Because pets are only with us a short time, and we are cognizant of how soon they may leave us, it’s easier to focus all of our attention on them.
They show us love and affection every day. They may be there for your bouts of depression and to calm you during an anxiety attack.
We know they won’t be there forever though, so we get our time in while we can.
This allows us to contemplate our feelings and relationship with our pet. It reminds us to be ever mindful and in the present when we are around them.
We feel when they are hurt but we can also appreciate a good laugh as they chase their tail or slide across the floor in a box they found.
And Most Of All, Pets Are Just Plain Cute
Who doesn’t love seeing a tiny pink nose, or a big stretch from a furry friend?
Nothing brings you into the present like that “Awww,” moment you have when your pet yawns, or cocks their head to the side like they were listening to you.
We are drawn to pets. They make us happy. We don’t stop and analyze it, we just enjoy them.