Meredith Stafford, staff writer
Humans are innately social beings. In every aspect of our lives, we seek connections, whether through classes, work or online. We look for companionship everywhere and animals are not exempt from this. Now more than ever, people are seeking relief from the isolation that COVID-19 has brought to many. The bond between a person and a pet can greatly benefit mental health and support our emotional well-being.
Pets are shown to reduce stress and anxiety in owners. For example, dogs are able to smell the changes in hormones in humans such as high cortisol levels, which indicate that a person is extremely anxious. This makes canines highly receptive to the emotional responses of their owners and the perfect candidates for service or emotional support animals. Petting an animal like a dog or a cat can also lower the blood pressure of a person and increase levels of oxytocin and dopamine in both the pet and the owner, establishing a mutually beneficial and relaxing relationship.
Having a pet can also offer comfort from depression. When suffering from loneliness or distress, you may often feel as if you are cut off from other people or stuck in a cycle. Pets are able to provide unconditional love and companionship even in the midst of mental health issues. Some animals can cuddle with their owners, while others, such as birds, can ease the feeling of loneliness by simply being present. Oftentimes, when you are anxious or depressed, it is difficult to interact or verbally communicate with other people and the unique, but quieter transfer of affection between a human and an animal may be more comforting.
The responsibility required to care for a pet can bolster self-assuredness and teach valuable lessons. Looking after a pet requires someone to tend to another being’s needs outside of their own, which takes both discipline and empathy. Feeding, watering, exercising, playing with and cleaning up after a pet can be a large time commitment that needs to be taken seriously. In order to do this, being a pet owner necessitates that we become comfortable with a level of self-sacrifice in favor of taking care of our companion. In turn, having this responsibility increases self-esteem because it proves that you are capable of taking care of both yourself and your pet.
Having a pet can help with social interaction, especially for those who may have trouble interacting with others. How many times do you see a stranger walking their dog and stop to ask if you can pet it? Pets can be an icebreaker for many and help introduce them to other people. I believe that this is especially important in a world where we’re becoming increasingly isolated and searching for connections with others.
Pets also provide a purpose for owners. On days where you have little to no motivation, it can be encouraging to know that you have a constant friend beside you and an animal to care for. Humans are task-driven creatures and we are always looking for goals to aim for. Owning a pet is rewarding because you can see the direct effect of your sacrifices for them in their affection for you. Being an owner entails adhering to a daily routine for the pet, which can be beneficial for you as well because it creates the kind of structure in day- to-day life that many people crave.
I think that pets deserve more appreciation for how much they truly improve our lives. So, give your furry friend a hug the next time you see them for everything that they do for you.