Improve Your Mental HealthJonathan BanniganStress Management

Why Animals And Pets Are Good For Your Mental Health

Animals and pets are good for your mental healthEvery morning when I wake up, if my cat, Bentley, isn’t already perched on my chest, the first thing I do is look for him. When I find him, I scoop him up by his belly and snuggle him close. As if on cue, his “motor” starts up and he begins to purr loudly. I jut out my chin and he nudges me back, using my beard as a kind of scratchpad. I coo nonsensical syllables at him, and he quacks (yes, quacks) a response. After about 45 minutes of this (not far from the truth on some days), I put him down and remove the fluff from my beard. It’s our morning ritual, but why do I do it? Why do I choose to begin my day with my pet? 

Why animals and pets are good for your mental health

Well, it turns out that pet ownership offers a number of mental health benefits. Let’s take a look at a few of them. And, I promise, I will try to keep my feline partisanship in check as we do. 🐾

Pets are grounding

First, what does it mean to be “grounded” or “grounding”? Generally, it means to be mentally or emotionally stable or to exert such an effect. Given that the meanings of “ground” and “earth” are intimately related, “grounding” and “grounded” imply mental or emotional stability attributable to rootedness in the earth. The body, being the physical or material vessel of human existence and experience, is related to the earth. Figuratively speaking, the body is the “earthly” part of our being. The earth supports and contains. So, too, does the body. Groundedness, then, is a feeling, sensation, or experience that involves rootedness in one’s body, which exerts a reassuringly supportive and steadying effect, not unlike the earth itself.

Pets—the furry varieties, at least—ground us because our interactions with them are largely tactile or sensate. We use our physical senses to interact with them. We use our sense of touch when we pet them, stroke them, caress them, nuzzle them, and cuddle them. We use our sense of smell when we inhale the clean scent of their fur. We use our sense of hearing when we listen to the soft rumble of a contented cat’s purr or a dog’s cheerful yips. Honing in on our physical senses, we leave the buzzy realm of the mind, and we begin to experience on the level of the body. We become rooted in our bodies, and we naturally begin to feel calmer.

Pets provide unconditional love

Pets love us no matter what our mood: happy, sad, angry, lonely, ashamed, depressed. Their affection remains steady across these fluctuations. Unencumbered by the higher mind and its judgments and defenses, pets always seem to retain that most helpful attitude in the face of suffering: benevolent, compassionate interest or curiosity. The steadfastness of their interest and affection across mood fluctuations imparts the message that we are lovable no matter our emotional state and all our feelings are acceptable. In this way, pet ownership promotes self-acceptance, self-love, self-compassion, and self-esteem.

The fact that pets are capable only of listening is arguably another of their strengths. Sometimes, the last thing we want or need is advice, counsel, or guidance—we simply want to be heard. Our pets are always there to listen. (Yes, it’s okay to talk to your pet.) 

Pets give us something to do

Pets give us something to be responsible for. They give us a reason to get up, get busy, get out, and get moving. Sometimes when we are feeling down, we can experience a lack of motivation. Pets are helpful in this regard because their basic needs don’t evaporate just because we’re feeling low. Regardless of how we feel, we must take the dog for a walk. We must feed and water the cat. When we care and provide for an animal, we demonstrate to ourselves that we are accountable and capable of supporting life. In this way, pets help us to feel competent and responsible, thus building self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Spend time with an animal today

There are a number of ways you can arrange to spend time with an animal. You could explore the possibility of pet ownership for yourself. You could arrange to visit a friend or family member who owns a pet. Or, you could choose to volunteer at a local animal shelter or hospital. However, you choose to spend time with animals and pets, know that you are doing something positive for your mental health and well-being.

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