Pets and Depression: Can Snuggling with Your Dog or Cat Help Ease Your Pain?

If you’re someone who regularly experiences depression or low moods, you should eat better.

Exercise more.

Socialize.

You know — everything you absolutely can’t do when you’re feeling sad.

Advice such as this is well-meaning, but impractical.

pexels-photo-395196You COULD conjure up a big salad filled with green plants and berries, but that would mean finding the energy to wash and chop produce, arrange it nicely in a bowl, and put everything away afterward.

It might also require washing a bowl first.

Sometimes it’s difficult to find the desire or the energy to wash dishes and clean up the house when the world waxes gray.

Yes. You could go to the gym or eat some sushi, but let’s be honest … that’s not going to happen. Probably, you’re going to forage in the freezer for the first thing that looks like ice cream and drag it onto the couch beside you.

So, let’s overlook the science of eating well to feel better for a moment and focus on a task that’s less scientific, but completely tangible in the shadow of a gray day.

Let’s snuggle with a beloved pet.

The Many Benefits of Pets for People With Depression

There are some things you probably don’t know about pets and depression, including:

  • Roughly 74% of pet owners say furry friends impact their mental health in positive ways.
  • Pet ownership helps keep you on a schedule — something that many people prone to depression have difficulty achieving. You have to feed, water and possibly walk a pet several times a day. This not only gives you purpose, it may also get you out of the house and into the sunshine for much-needed vitamin D.
  • Stroking a pet increases your levels of oxytocin and decreases your levels of cortisol. This makes you feel less stressed. Additionally, the sound of purring is the sound of calm contentment.
  • Pets may also help you build social connections, regardless of how introverted you may be. When you walk your dog, you feel inclined to speak to neighbors and passers-by. A bright smile and a moment of conversation from the right person at the right time has been known to alter destinies, after all.

Pets and depression have other benefits, too. There are no dreaded side-effects to snuggling with your pet. You won’t wake up tomorrow feeling hung-over or depleted. It won’t cost you a co-pay to cuddle on the couch with Tiger and Wolfie. Neither does it require expending energy that you simply can’t find in the moment.

Pets Bring Unconditional Love to those Who Feel Unloved

pexels-photo-3616232Another important connection between pets and depression is the unconditional love we find in our pets — that same unconditional love that we search so vainly for in humans. Pets are empathy on furry little feet. They sense when we’re sad, and they offer the only thing they have as comfort in return.

They offer themselves.

It’s soothing to be in the presence of a roly-poly cat or a playful pup. Pets give us a warm presence to touch. They let us ruffle their hair and scratch their ears, and sometimes, they give us a warm lick or a playful nose bump in return. They distract us, too. And sometimes it feels SO good to JUST STOP THINKING.

Pets and Depression Trump Unwanted Advice

This isn’t to say that it’s okay to ignore medication and therapy and your doctor’s orders the next time a dark day beckons. I’m actually an enthusiastic supporter of eating well and exercising often … just not so much on the gray days.

What you should feel free to overlook, however, is all the good “advice” that comes your way when you’re feeling your worst. It’s okay if you can’t conjure up the energy to run the dishwasher or run the track. It’s okay to relax on the couch with your pint of butter pecan and your TV remote occasionally. And it’s definitely okay to bump relaxation up a notch by adding the weight and lolling tongue of a fuzzy friend or three.

Some might even call it therapeutic.

Sources:

bphope.com

WebMD

PsychCentral

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