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Most people who suffer from anxiety and depression have an overload of compassion, it’s one of the reasons we suffer from mental illness. We are overly sensitive to those around us, and ourselves. We are a species of animal lovers on the whole and that’s why many of us choose to share our homes and lives with pets. But a lot of people don’t realise that it can be good to have animals for anxiety too.
Animals love unconditionally just like children. They have a few basic needs, such as food, water, and shelter and as long as they get that, they will happily curl up beside you and give you lots of love and affection. So is this the only reason that animals are good for anxiety?
Let’s take a look…
What animals help with anxiety?
Most animals can help with anxiety. Traditionally cats and dogs are the most obvious choices, but guinea pigs, horses and even fish can help reduce anxiety and stress in their owners.
This is for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that you have to take care of their needs, gives you something to focus on other than your anxious or stressful emotions. Secondly, animals are interesting and sometimes funny to observe as they go about their day, which can distract you from your problems. Lastly, an animal will give you affection simply for meeting its basic needs. You essentially become a part of it’s ‘pack’ and are accepted as one of them.
How do animals reduce anxiety?
There are a number of ways that animals help to reduce anxiety:
- Playing and petting our pets raises serotonin and dopamine. These hormones that make us feel calm and relaxed, are also called the ‘happiness hormones.’
- Interacting with friendly animals lowers cortisol and increases oxytocin. Cortisol is the main stress hormone whereas oxytocin helps to naturally reduce stress
- Stroking an animal reduces our blood pressure which also helps to reduce stress
- Our pets make us feel needed. The very act of caretaking gives us purpose and meaning
- Pets teach us to live in the moment. Mindfulness is a proven method of dealing with anxiety, depression and stress, and is based around living in the moment
- They make us feel less lonely. Pets enjoy interacting with their owners as much as owners enjoy interacting with their pets. This leads to us feeling less alone
- Pets give us unconditional love.
What kind of animals should I get?
This largely depends on the amount of space you have available and the amount of time you can dedicate to your animals. Some animals only require minimal care, others really need full-time attention.
Fish, for example, will quite happily go about their lives without much interference from you. As long as their water is kept clean and they are fed, they will be just fine. An African Grey Parrot, on the other hand, needs around eight hours of interaction a day to thrive.
There are other things to consider as well; how much money can you afford to put into looking after your pets? A horse will cost you a lot more in care and vets bills, than a hamster.
But there are benefits to having a pet that could outweigh some of those things. With a dog, you will get a regular dose of exercise and time in nature.
A cats purr will soothe anxiety, and the act of playing with a cat helps to lower stress hormones.
Watching fish swimming in their tank can have a meditative quality.
It’s down to you, your resources and your needs to make the deciding choice on what would be the best pet for you.
Are small animals good for anxiety too?
All animals are good animals for anxiety. The benefits of small animals are that they take up less space and cost less to keep. Rats are extremely affectionate, intelligent and fascinating little creatures. They will bond with their owner and offer little chatterings to let you know they are happy!
Rabbits and guinea pigs are often favourites of children. Stroking their soft fur will make a guinea pig purr and reduce blood pressure in both the animals and the owner. A guinea pig’s little wheek is a signal that they recognise you and is a wonderful sound to their owners.
Birds are interesting to watch, and their song can be soothing for anyone who has one. Some can be trained to sit on their owner’s hand and they too can build a strong bond with their owners.
Reptiles can also be fascinating to watch and will build a bond with their caretakers. Lizards, in particular, are very affectionate with humans.
All animals are helpful for anxiety. But it’s important to make the right choice when deciding what type of pets are the right type of animals for anxiety in your home. Consider the following:
- How much space do you have available for your pets?
- Can you reasonably afford to meet their basic needs and vet bills?
- How much time can you dedicate to your pets?
- Do you have any allergies that need to be taken into account?
- Have you researched how to properly care for your chosen pet?
Answering these questions should give you a good idea of what sort of pet is going to be a good one for your family or home situation. Always make sure you have everything the animal will need before you bring it home to help it to settle in. Your pet will bond with you faster if it feels safe and secure and you will also reap the benefits of having a pet for the rest of its life.
Do you have pets that help with your anxiety, depression and/or stress? What do you have? Let us know all about it in the comments below!