The top 6 ways pets can help boost your mental health
And why we need pets now more than ever before
Every day, the media tells us about COVID-19; the number of cases in each State, the number of deaths, the outbreaks, the clusters, the restrictions, the lockdowns, the fines, the mask-wearing… Are you tired of hearing it too?
But there's one major thing the media hasn't touched on much (and something they never really do). I'm referring to the number of people suffering from mental illnesses and not coping during these trying times.
Now, as you know, I'm a pet lover - I'm not a psychologist.
However, mental health is something I feel strongly about, although it seems to be a taboo subject.
But right now, more than ever before, people are silently suffering – loss of jobs, loss of income, loss of family, isolation from others and so on.
I've had my challenges with anxiety and depression over the years. My family and some close friends have also suffered from similar conditions. We've experienced the highs and lows and unfortunately know the pain of suicide.
The effects of this pandemic may trigger previously undiagnosed conditions, or people already suffering may find it harder to manage their health with the added stresses. I'm not qualified to give advice on mental health issues, but one thing I do know is how much a pet can help you during trying times.
Here are the top 6 ways a pet can help increase your mood and tackle mental illness
Pets calm your mind and ease stress: Most people will have experienced a level of stress in their lives. You may be feeling more stressed now as the world is so uncertain. Research has shown that patting your pet will calm you down. It lowers your blood pressure, and when you're patting your pet, it takes your focus off your problems as you listen to them purring or watch their little face as their eyes shut with pleasure. It's relaxing and helps make you feel calm.
They're always there for you: No matter what happens in your life, your pet will always be there for you. They don't judge you and turn away. You'll find that your furry pets are loyal, affectionate and love being right beside you. If you're isolated, a pet can be an excellent companion, especially when you're not allowed to go visiting or have visitors.
Pets keep you in a routine: If you've ever owned a pet, you'll know they're creatures of habit. Miss that morning feeding time and they'll be at you, letting you know that you're meant to be feeding them. Or if they're used to a walk in the afternoon, no doubt they'll be barking near the door waiting to get out. If you're finding days are blending and you're lost, a pet will keep you focused and in your routine.
You've got something to care for: If you're living alone or have people working out of your home, a pet can fill the void and give you something to care for. Having a sense of purpose can help reduce conditions such as depression and anxiety as you take some focus off yourself and know that you have another life depending on you.
Pets make you exercise: Perhaps dogs more than cats here (although some people walk their cats!), pets are a great excuse to get out for a walk. Walking has proven mental health benefits as well as improving your fitness levels. They can also help you socialise when you bump into others also out walking their dog.
They give you something to talk about: Many of us aren't actually doing much right now! We can't go out, and we can't see people, so we don't have much to talk about when we call our family and friends. Pets often get up to mischief or do something funny or cute, so it gives you something to talk about with others!
If you do need help, here are some great resources for you to check out
As I mentioned, I'm not a mental health expert but an animal lover. So, if you do want to contact someone for a chat, here are some organisations that are here to help you:
● Sane Australia has some great blogs around mental health and the COVID-19 impact.
● Better Health Channel has an article about the health benefits of dog walking.
● There are also free online and phone support services:
o Lifeline: 13 11 14
o Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
o Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
o MensLine: 1300 789 978
I'd love for you to share your story of how your pet has helped you destress
As they say, we're all in this together so I'd love to hear your stories of how your pet has helped you destress. It doesn't need to be a recent story, but please feel free to share. Here's a story from a friend to get started:
'My daughter had just moved out of home, and for the first time in 21 years, I felt like I was no longer needed. The nights seemed so lonely and the days so long. I was feeling alone for the first time in my life. Then I noticed my old dog, Max. Religiously, anytime I moved, he'd follow. Although it was almost like having a toddler follow you to the toilet again, I realised I was never alone. He was by my side and had picked up on my sad mood. Now inseparable, I know Max was a major part in helping me adjust to life without being a full-time mum, by reminding me he still needs me and is always by my side. And yes, he's sleeping at my feet right now!'.
Please share your story!