We’re coming up on a year of the pandemic, and one of the biggest side effects has been loneliness and isolation. For some, that’s especially trying during Valentine’s Day (on the heels of the winter holidays!). Stress, anxiety, and depression are among the top adverse mental health effects emerging from a year of lockdowns and quarantine.
For many pet owners though, their furry family members have been a solace – even a source of joy and grounding – during an unprecedented time of difficulty. This is no surprise to scientists, who have long studied how animals help combat loneliness and provide companionship. Here are some of the ways our four-legged (and other!) lifesavers have been helping us emotionally and boosting our mental health.
They give us a sense of purpose
Having a routine and caring for another being gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. Animals don’t know we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so there’s comfort in seeing them carry on life, as usual, content and happy in the moment.
They provide companionship
They’re our friends and companions – making us laugh, inviting us to be present, and loving us no matter what. And for so many of us, they’re suddenly our new workmates, bombing our zoom calls and taking over our keyboards. They offer their steady presence – at the bedside in the morning, in our laps as we’re trying to read, underfoot at dinner time. No matter what happens in our day, they’re there for us.
They keep us active
Well, at least in the case of dogs, who will keep us to a walking schedule (whether we like it or not!). Once out and moving, we can reconnect with nature, wave to neighbors, and fill our lungs with fresh air. They can help us break up the monotony of the day with some movement and downtime.
They’re our family
No matter how big or small, there a reason we call them our “babies.” We form deep, emotional attachments to our pets, a neurological bonding process that goes back to our pre-history of animal domestication. They have a seemingly endless supply of love to dole out and are there for us whatever mood we’re in. For children and teens, this can be especially important during the pandemic.
We’re wired for connection
Pet and animal therapy have been proven to help the elderly and those with cognitive conditions. We may not fully understand the science, but it’s well-known that just being around animals helps so many. It can lower stress, improve emotional self-regulation, decrease pain symptoms and boost positive hormones.
Given all the benefits pets bring us, it’s no wonder pet owners are feeling extra grateful these days and that pet adoptions have been skyrocketing. If you’re thinking of adopting, do your research, make sure you’re ready to commit long-term, and be a responsible adopter.
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