Life can be a lot to handle at times. Even with a new year bringing hope for change and renewal, the stresses of the past year don’t just disappear. While you’re working on a plan to get your New Year’s resolutions into full swing, don’t forget to take advantage of the support system you already have at home. More than your spouse, your kids, or even your friend group, you have an amazing untapped resource that can benefit your physical health as well as your mental health: your pet.

There’s something comforting about coming home to a wagging tail at the end of the day. No matter how difficult the day, having someone happy to see you can make all the difference. Pets don’t just boost our mood when we’re feeling down, however, they can actually impact your mental health and overall wellness in measurable ways.

Here are 6 ways owning a pet can benefit your mental health:

    1. They can help you defeat depression. Studies show that pet owners experience lower rates of depression than non-pet-owners. Simply interacting with a pet can boost oxytocin levels in the brain, giving you more of those “feel good” hormones that help combat symptoms of depression.
    2. They help you create structure in your life. When it feels like everything is crashing down around you, it can be comforting to have a predictable routine. Owning a pet forces you to have some kind of routine, between a regular feeding schedule and daily walks, you may find it helps you feel a little bit more stable. That stability can be a coping mechanism to help you with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
    3. They help you form stronger interpersonal relationships. Your pet is your constant companion, but you need support from other humans too. Owning and caring for a pet teaches you valuable skills like empathy and patience which can be beneficial in forming stronger relationships with people.
    4. They can be a source of stress relief. Sometimes life seems like a continuous parade of soul-sucking moments. When you’re feeling overwhelmed with the stress of it all, spend a few minutes cuddling your furry friend. Dogs have a calming effect on the mind and can increase production of mood-boosting brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin.
    5. They provide unconditional love and comfort. Even when you’re feeling invisible or unimportant, your pet thinks you’re the greatest thing in the world. Sometimes knowing that you have someone who loves you unconditionally is enough to help get you through the tough times.
    6. They can give you an improved outlook on life. We all have times when we feel down, and it may seem like things will never look up. Pet owners have been shown to have a more positive outlook on life. When you’re feeling blue, give your pet a cuddle and try to let him lift your spirits.

In addition to helping you cope with symptoms of mental health issues, pets have been shown to have some pretty amazing benefits for physical health. Research in the field of anthrozoology, the study of the interaction between humans and other animals, has yielded some astounding results. Owning a pet can lower blood pressure and heart rate, help you stay active, and may even boost the immune system.

Make Sure You’re Taking Care of Your Pet, Too

Your pet loves you unconditionally. All he wants is to spend as much time with you as possible. If you can show him even a fraction of the love he so willingly gives to you day in and day out, his life will be better for it. Being a pet owner isn’t just about making sure your pet’s basic needs are met – it’s about helping your pet live the happiest and healthiest life they possibly can, all by your side.

Here are some simple ways to make sure you’re taking care of your pet’s mental and physical health:
    • Get some fresh air together. When you’re feeling depressed, the best thing you can do it get out of the house and go for a walk. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to spend some time with your pet while giving him a little extra exercise at the same time!
    • Upgrade your pet’s diet. If you’re feeding your pet drugstore pet food, he may not be getting the quality nutrition he deserves. Your pet deserves a nutritionally balanced diet made up of animal protein and whole-food sources of essential nutrients for optimal health and wellness.
    • Engage in daily training sessions. Even if your pet already knows the basics, daily training is a great bonding experience, and it provides mental stimulation. If you’re feeling unmotivated yourself, doing something productive that isn’t directly related to work might help you get your groove back.
    • Volunteer at a local care facility. Your pet has plenty of love to give, so why keep it all to yourself. Contact a local assisted living facility or nursing home to see if you and your pet can volunteer to bring the residents a little joy (and a few cuddles).
    • Indulge them in a tasty treat. Every pet loves a tasty treat, so why not spoil them once in a while? Just be sure to include treats in your pet’s total daily calorie intake to avoid unwanted weight gain and the potential health problems that come along with it.

The bond you have with your pet is incredibly special. When you’re feeling down, he keeps you company, and that comforting presence alone can make a difference. If you’re still struggling with anxiety or depression, however, consider seeking professional support. Reach out to a trusted friend or talk to an online psychiatrist to learn how to cope with your struggles so you can your pet can live a long, happy, and healthy life together.

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