This week, between 18 and 24 May, is Mental Health Awareness Week, an initiative by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK. This year’s theme is kindness, and one act of kindness you can demonstrate is to foster or adopt an animal.
With the current situation, some of us may be feeling sadder than normal. Coronavirus has been dominating the news for so long that it may be difficult to see the rosy side of life. But there is no denying that whatever our age or circumstances, we can all find joy in our pets.
Research has proven that having a pet is good for mental health, reducing anxiety levels and depression. The first studies were undertaken around 30 years ago and showed lower blood pressure, a slower heart rate, better regular breathing, and reduced muscle tension – all important indicators of the positive physical benefits of a healthy state of mind.
Having a pet will help when we’re sad if we are unable to see our friends and family. It is easy to feel isolated at the moment, but a pet will give us the company we need when we’re unable to go out and socialise. They will let us chat away to them (they’re unlikely to answer though!) and give us comfort. Pets live in the moment – they aren’t interested in what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. They teach us to be more mindful and simply enjoy the present.
Part of our daily lives is having a set routine, which for most of us has been disrupted. One good reason for getting up in the morning is to care for and look after someone or something other than ourselves. It gives us a focus, an incentive to get up, a purpose for the day. Pets love routines – especially when it comes to breakfast! – and encourage great habits for us. Playtime and exercise will keep both ours and our pets’ minds and bodies active. Walking the dog is a wonderful break from the four walls and keeps us moving – obviously just be safe and wear a mask when outdoors.
Pets have been proven to be really calming for us, and there are specially trained dogs used for therapy or emotional support. Whatever the species, you will feel calmer in the company of your non-human friend, whether it’s talking to them, snuggling up together on the sofa, or the simple act of giving them a treat. They bring us joy and unconditional love, and can make us feel needed. Just five minutes of playing with our pets has been proven to reduce anxiety levels, as it increases levels of serotonin and dopamine, the ‘happy hormones’ that calm and relax the nervous system. Interacting with a friendly dog lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the body and raises oxytocin, which reduces stress. Simply stroking our pets will lower blood pressure.
Children particularly find owning a pet therapeutic. Those with dogs in the home can demonstrate less childhood stress and anxiety, and dogs are often found to calm hyperactive or aggressive children. It is claimed that those with autism have been found to be happier around animals with fewer signs of stress and less sensory sensitivity.
The research on pets and mental health is clear. So go ahead, enjoy time spent with your pet, and join the many millions of other pet owners who feel the benefits of being with their animals.
If you are interested in owning a pet, get in touch with one of the animal rescue centres or shelters in Qatar such as QAWS, PAWS, BarkinQ or 2nd Chance Rescue – Qatar. There are dozens that need a foster home or are waiting to be adopted and become part of the family. Qatar Vet Center can provide excellent care for your animal, to ensure your pet stays fit and healthy, as well as assist with services such as microchipping and relocation.
Author: Sarah Palmer
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