A Healing Friend for Life: How Pets Benefit Your Mental Health At Home and At Work
In the UK, 52% of adults own at least one pet. Frankly, this is no surprise: animals are adorable, loving, and a special member of every household. But as well as being great for cuddles and company, spending time with our furry friends can have a wide range of advantages for both our physical and mental health.
Whether at home or at work, the presence of four-legged companions can have a huge impact on your overall well-being. Here, we outline some of the ways in which animals can boost our mood, happiness, and concentration, while highlighting why more and more workplaces are becoming pet-friendly.
Health benefits of having a pet in your life
Caring for a pet and receiving unconditional love in return can have a truly positive impact on the quality of your life. After all, humans and animals have been sharing homes and work activities for thousands of years. So, it’s no wonder we have built strong relationships, bonds, and affection over the centuries.
9 in 10 owners believe that their furry companions work wonders on their well-being. But in what ways do pets actually enhance our personal mental health? Let’s have a look.
Increase physical activity
One of the most obvious advantages of owning an animal is that you are bound to enjoy more physical activity. For instance, this is especially true for dog owners, as their pooches require at least one walk a day to stay active and in shape.
Dr Harpreet Sood, says that putting your walking boots on and getting out and about with your pet can aid your mental health too. “The good thing is that, as well as helping you develop healthy habits for your body, fitting some much-needed physical activity within your daily routine can uplift your mental well-being,” Dr Sood explains, “Physical exercise can improve the symptoms of many different mental issues, from anxiety and panic disorder to depression. In fact, many GPs around England use social prescribing which supports patients with a combination of emotional, physical and social needs aimed at improving physical and mental health.”.
Reduce feelings of stress
Spending time with a pet and stroking them while they are on your lap can gradually decrease your sentiments of stress. In fact, it has been found that petting a dog can lower the production of cortisol, a hormone that is closely linked to stress. At the same time, cuddling your pooch can trigger the release of a feel-good hormone called ‘oxytocin’, which is also what happens when a mother breastfeeds her baby.
If you own a cat, you will be happy to know that your feline’s purr can alleviate feelings of stress too. Not only does it have a therapeutic effect on mental illnesses, but it also helps decrease blood pressure and favour the healing of both physical conditions.
Provide companionship and a sense of purpose
Pets are an excellent antidote against loneliness. Love, as well as the need to be loved, is a basic human instinct, and animals are always able to offer heaps of affection. Especially in the case of elderly people, who can sometimes experience a lack of human interaction, the presence of dogs, cats, or other pets in the house can help combat negative feelings of solitude and sadness.
What’s more, looking after an animal can give a much-important sense of purpose. Knowing that your pet depends on your care can make you feel wanted and needed, which can, in turn, help shift the focus away from personal worries.
Help meet new people
Another advantage of owning a pet is that animals give you the opportunity to meet and maintain new friendships. Indeed, especially on dog walks, pet owners are likely to stop and have a chat, while their pooches get to know each other too.
Social interaction triggers a cascade of neurotransmitters, including the release of oxytocin, meaning that person-to-person contact can have positive effects on how we respond to feelings of stress and anxiety.
Pets in the workplace
In short, animals can mitigate negative emotions. However, should you be concerned about your mental state, it is always wise to get in touch with your doctor. They will be able to assess your mental health, set out possible recovery programmes, and provide you with any necessary GP prescription to help you feel better.
As well as benefitting your well-being in your private life, our furry friends can have a huge impact in the workplace too, which is why more and more offices are becoming pet-friendly. Here are some of the advantages you could enjoy if you bring pets to work:
- Better concentration – It has been found that engaging and interacting with dogs can boost your executive functions and ability to think, concentrate, and plan. Interestingly, the effects can last up to six weeks, meaning that dog contact can have a positive, long-term impact on your working brain.
- Decrease stress and pressure – If you are experiencing a bad day at the office, pets can help you destress and aid your mental health. In fact, evidence shows that students who have access to animal visits present lower levels of cortisol (e.g. the stress hormone). So, it is only natural to believe that, when under pressure at work, having pets in the office can help preserve your mental well-being.
- Force to take breaks – Working non-stop may seem productive. But the truth is that ploughing through tasks can take its toll on both your mental health and efficiency levels. This is why it is always important to take a well-earned rest from time to time. With loving four-legged companions in the room, there is no need to schedule breaks, as they are more likely to happen naturally. Having pets in the workplace can also motivate you to get away from your desk for a little while and, perhaps, fit in a short stroll to keep your body energised.
If you are the proud owner of a furry companion, or are thinking about adopting a four-legged friend, rest assured that pets can offer you a myriad of health benefits. From increasing your physical activity and providing companionship to minimising stress and favouring social interaction, having an animal in your family can work magic on your mental well-being.
What’s more, if you need a motivational ‘colleague’ in the workplace, a waggly co-worker could enhance your productivity and concentration as you go about your daily duties. So, it may be worth asking your current employer whether they are happy to arrange pet-friendly workdays, as it can uplift your team as a whole.