Lots of us love animals. Our cuddly and feathery friends can really help us to feel better about ourselves, and about life. Their presence can lift our mood and be very comforting.
In this post we explore how animals can help our mental health, and some ways we can introduce them to our lives.
How do they help?
There are a number of ways that animals can help us. They can improve our mood, calm us down, and be our best friend.
There is a theory involved in compassion focussed therapy that we have three connected affect systems – a drive system, threat system, and soothe system. Our drive system allows us to feel excited and motivated, but depression often mutes it and we lose interest in the things that used to make us happy or give us purpose. If we feel anxious or on edge, our threat system may be heightened. Our soothe system can help the other two systems: reducing anxiety and helping us to feel more settled. Stroking a pet, and feeling their warmth and the texture of their fur, can really help to soothe and settle us.
Sometimes we can feel really out of it, or disconnected from the world. Stroking a pet or connecting with an animal can really help to ground us and reconnect us with the world around us.
Depression can isolate us. It can make it hard for us to see people or do things. Having our fluffy companion by our side can help to reduce how lonely we might feel at times. Additionally, our animals can introduce us to other people who have something in common with us – dogs will often make friends with other dogs they come across, which can introduce us to their owners. Bigger animals, such as horses, might introduce us to others at the stables. Meeting these people is great because you have an easy topic of conversation – your animals.
They are excellent listeners
Pets never get bored of hearing us talk. They will listen to whatever we tell them, whether it be happy, sad, or really distressing. Our pets never judge us and won’t tell anyone else our secrets. And animals can often tell if we’re not feeling okay – they will come and give us a hug, and allow us to cry on them if we need to.
Our pets have routines – they know when they’re fed, they know that they need a walk, or need to be let out of the house or cage, and they will be sure to tell us if we miss a feed or a walk. This can be super helpful because even when we’re feeling low and struggling to do anything, they remind us of their routine, which can then help us with our own routines.
They force us outside
Whether it be walking a dog, letting our rabbits run around the garden, or letting our cats out for a wander, pets are excellent at getting us to leave the house (or at least to open the door and let some fresh air in), which can help to lift our mood a little.
They can make us laugh
Pets do funny things. Sometimes our dog will sneeze, our cat chase around the house like a headless chicken, or our parrot will insult one of our guests, and it’s just funny. They can make us laugh, and just the act of laughing can lift our mood a little bit.
Adopting a Pet
If we decide that we would like to welcome a creature into our lives, we need to be certain that we can look after it, however we’re feeling. We might love a husky, but if depression depletes our energy and makes it impossible for us to walk it as much as it needs, it’s not the right pet for us.
Visit the pet
Whether we’re adopting a pet from a charity or a rescuer, or buying one, we need to make sure we visit it before you buy it. Not every animal will be right for every person so we might need to visit a few pets before we find the right one for us.
Make sure the money adds up
Pets aren’t necessarily cheap. Before we adopt one, we need to be sure that we can afford it because if we can’t, it will add to our stress rather than helping us.
Check with landlord
If we are renting our property, we need to check in with our landlord to make sure that we’re allowed to have a creature sharing our home with us. Some landlords won’t allow certain pets and the last thing we want to do is end up having to choose between our pet and our home.
Get the facts
We need to speak to the people we’re getting our animal from to get all of the facts. Adopting an animal is a big responsibility and we need to make sure that we know what to feed it, what equipment it might need, and anything else involved in looking after it before we buy it.
Find a vet
It can be useful to know about a local vet, even if their number is just scrawled on a scrap bit of paper and stuck on our fridge. That way, if our animal becomes unwell, we won’t need to be hunting around for a vet’s details and can just take our pet straight in.
Other ways to get your animal fix
Sometimes we’re not in a position to own our own animal. However there are other ways we can spend time with animals.
Borrow my doggy
People who love dogs but are unable to care for one full-time may want to look at borrow my doggy. They match dog-owners with dog-borrowers, allowing dog-lovers to have a doggy companion without the commitment of becoming a dog owner.
Visit animal places
There are lots of nature reserves and farms that have animals we can stroke or hold. These are great places to go to get some fresh air and a fluffy-cuddles-fix.
Volunteer at an animal shelter
There are animal shelters all over the country. They are usually run by charities such as the RSPCA, Cats Protection or Blue Cross. Shelters frequently recruit volunteers: helping out can be a great way for us to connect with animals and other people.
There are some cat cafés appearing over the country. We can pop along to one and grab a cat cuddle with our cup of tea. They’re a low-cost, no-commitment way of making a cat-friend or three.
Sharing is caring: please share this post to help others, you never know who might need it.