Interacting with animals can be an emotionally fulfilling pet project. Animals can bring joy to our lives. Spending time with animals can offer a wealth of mental health benefits, from boosting mood to reducing feelings of stress, loneliness, and isolation.
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Ten Mental Health Benefits of Interacting with Animals
Research shows that spending time with animals can:
- Decrease stress. Managing stress is important for mental health. Everyone experiences stress, especially when facing challenges. Stress is not necessarily bad. For example, it can motivate us to take action when we need to. However, prolonged or high levels of stress can take their toll on mental and physical health. Unmanaged stress may contribute to depression and anxiety. It can also affect healthy sleep patterns, an important factor for mental wellness and emotional regulation. Spending time with animals can help lower harmful levels of stress and boost mental health.
- Strengthen social and emotional skills. Social and emotional skills are protective factors for strong mental health. Social and emotional skills are tools that enable us to connect with others, make good choices, and manage emotions. Spending time with animals can offer an emotional connection that strengthens social skills.
- Increase empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. By interacting with animals, we can strengthen our empathy skills. Animals have feelings. For example, they may show clear signs of feeling scared, angry, or even happy to see us. By being in tune with their feelings, we can respond appropriately and positively, which in turn can help us be more nurturing and caring. These feelings can help us strengthen a sense of fulfillment and meaning, which are mental health boosters.
- Raise levels of “feel good” hormones and lower levels of stress hormones. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. Long-term activation of cortisol can have negative effects on both physical and mental health. Spending time with animals can give the body a break from cortisol and can even prompt release of endorphins and oxytocin, the “feel good” hormones.
- Increase a sense of social support. Social support can help ease symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Animals can play a social support role, which can help mental well-being.
- Boost mood. Spending time with animals can be fun. The enjoyment from interacting with animals can enhance positive feelings. Positive emotions can help build emotional strength.
- Reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Connections with other living creatures can ease a sense of loneliness and offer supportive mental health benefits.
- Offer comfort. Spending time with animals can be calming and comforting. Animals can be a positive distraction from negative thoughts and offer relief from anxiety. Engaging in pleasurable activities can give us a pause from stress and offer us an emotional re-set.
- Prompt mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being present in the moment. It’s a helpful practice for managing anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can offer us a break from negative thoughts, worries, or a busy mind. Focusing on the moments of interactions with animals or simply observing animals can be soothing acts of mindfulness. Mindfully engaging the senses while spending time in nature can be especially helpful to mental health.
- Spark feelings of compassion. Compassion helps us understand the emotional state of others and ourselves. Compassion involves the desire to help. Spending time with animals can encourage us to feel compassionate. Compassion can benefit the recipient our kindness while also boosting our own positive feelings that come from being helpful. Compassion with ourselves when we’re feeling emotional challenges can help us cope and heal.
Safe time spent with animals can offer human rewards. Experiencing joy, compassion, and moment-to-moment awareness while interacting with animals can offer protective health factors and boost mental health and emotional well-being.
Marie Miguel Biography
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with MyTherapist.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.