How Do Pets Help With Anxiety and Uncertainty
As all pet people know, our pets provide a great deal of support in trying times. With the pandemic and current events increasing levels of uncertainty, anxiety and stress amongst many of us, we’ve never needed our pets more. Read on for some specific tips and ways you can relax with your pet to reduce levels of anxiety.
Over the last few years, many studies have shown what pet owners instinctively know to be true – our pets make us feel better. One study found that during COVID-19 lockdown periods, pet owners were less lonely and faced less impact on their mental health than those without a companion animal.
Scientifically, spending time with a pet helps to fulfil our human need for touch and companionship; stroking, hugging and cuddling pets elevates our levels of serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that help our bodies to calm down and relax. It also reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and lowers blood pressure.
There are numerous other health benefits of owning a pet, particularly a dog. They often help us to lead a healthier lifestyle, with more exercise and more time spent outdoors, both of which are key ways of keeping anxiety and stress at bay.
1. Enjoy the mood-boosting effects of a good cuddle.
Stroking your pet provides immediate sensory stress relief, both for you and your pet. As mentioned earlier, it elevates levels of ‘happy hormones’ and reduces negative ones. Plus, it’s hard to stay upset when seeing how much your pet enjoys being cuddled!
2. Establish a routine.
Following a routine is a great way to combat anxiety and other mental health issues. Pets also love routine, so this helps them too. Try to take them out for walks or engage in playtime at the same times each day; feed them and yourselves at regular hours; and follow a pre-bedtime routine together that helps you wind down. It’s best to avoid strenuous activities right before bed, as these can leave your body too awake to get a good night’s rest.
3. Try a new form of exercise with your pet, like doga.
Engaging in any type of exercise has great mental and physical health benefits for both you and your pet. If you don’t fancy heading out for a hike or a run, there are lots of other things you can try, including “doga”, also known as yoga with your dog!
Grab two mats and encourage your dog to copy you as you move through your poses. Some of the poses that may come more naturally to your dog include downward dog, upward-facing dog, compass pose, happy baby, supine twist, and supported fetal pose.
4. Add an extra play session into your day.
As a pet parent, there’s nothing better than seeing your pet having the time of their life. Take a short break in between tasks and indulge in their favourite playtime activity. Whether it’s a game of tug, chase, or 5 minutes of fetch, we guarantee you’ll feel happier and calmer after the brief distraction.
5. Use your pet to meet new people.
One for the dog owners – take advantage of your pet’s role as a natural icebreaker and use them to meet new people. From the dog park to a dog-friendly coffee shop, or even puppy classes, pets are a great social lubricant and can spark new friendships that help combat loneliness.
6. Gaze into your pet’s eyes.
A 2015 Japanese study found that gazing into your pet’s eyes increases levels of oxytocin, the love hormone, which has significant mood-boosting effects. It not only benefits you as the pet owner, but your pet’s levels of oxytocin also increase! Find a quiet moment while you’re alone with your pet, and try it for yourself – we’re sure you’ll be rewarded with a wagging tail or happy purr from your pet.
7. Talk to your pet.
Pets make great listeners. You can tell them anything, and they won’t judge you. And even though they can’t answer, there is a wealth of evidence showing that pets are finely attuned to human emotions, and can use clues from your tone of voice and body language to understand how you’re feeling. Often, pets will instinctively know when their owner needs a cuddle. So the next time you’re feeling down, let your pet lend an ear.
We hope you find these tips useful, and are able to successfully manage anxiety and uncertainty with the help and support of your pet. However, it’s important to remember that the huge changes wrought by the pandemic haven’t just impacted us; your pet may also be feeling some strain, particularly if you’re heading back to the office after a period of working from home. All of the tips above will also help your pet, but if you do notice any signs of anxiety, such as behavioral changes, destructive behavior, or excessive licking, it’s best to deal with it immediately. Read our articles on managing anxiety in cats and in dogs and contact your veterinarian for further advice and treatment.