– By Jessa Sabater, Special to Violet Wave –
Depression affects many of us with feelings of hopelessness, fear and loneliness. About 10 – 25% of women and 10 – 15 % of men will experience major depression at some point in their lives (Center for Addiction and Mental Health). By 2020, The World Health Organization predicts it will become the second most common disability globally, after heart disease. Often, depression can be associated with lack of energy, anger, sadness, guilt and suicidal thoughts. There are many ways of coping with this affliction, through therapy and medication. A natural remedy however includes becoming a pet owner. Owning an animal helps to initiate the coping process and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Pet therapy programs have even been introduced to facilities such as Ryerson University in Toronto, where a “puppy room” has been made available for students to reduce school-related stresses. Owners of cats and dogs claim to have experienced lower blood pressure when compared to non-pet owners. Studies have also shown that when in the company of a pet, levels of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin (chemicals that help the body relax) increase. Along with these reasons, here are the top 4 ways being a pet owner will help someone cope with depression.
1. Increased feelings of happiness and positivity.
All animals express emotion differently, but there is now doubt when you come home from work or school your pet will always be happy to see you. Nothing is more wonderful than the feeling of being welcomed by a cat or dog after a long day. Pet owners have experienced a 37% decrease in anxiety, with increased feelings of positivity. Along with these feelings of joy, pets help to facilitate routines. They know when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed, when they’re fed or walked or played with – they help to keep you on schedule (most often acting like a natural alarm clock). Having an animal to push you to stick to a routine and comfort you when you’re feeling down offers great support. Physical touch such as cuddling or petting is one of the healthiest ways to cope with stress.
2. A sense of responsibility and purpose.
Nothing feels more empowering than knowing as a pet owner you have the ability to care for another living creature. This responsibility helps the owner to focus on his or her pet, creating distraction from oppressive feelings. Taking ownership over a creature that simply needs food, water and attention will help the owner pull away from negative thoughts. By having that animal by his or her side, it will reinforce feelings of self-worth. Having a pet can help to create structure and a balanced life.
3. Conquer feelings of loneliness.
Living alone can heighten feelings of loneliness and breed symptoms associated with depression. As the saying goes, “a dog is man’s best friend” and owning any type of animal will create a sense of companionship. As a result, anxiety is lessened when the individual is surrounded by an extra sense of security and affection.
4. Sociability will increase.
Animals help people open up and show emotion in a safe environment, while also creating a comfortable zone outside of the home. Owning a dog, for example, will make someone more inclined to go outside and for a walk, with the potential of interacting with neighbours and other dog walkers. Pets make good icebreakers, and offer something for an individual to relate to when interacting with other animal lovers. Having a pet can even increase chances of dating (66% of people won’t date a person who doesn’t like pets).
Needless to say pets are big bundles of joy waiting for someone to love them. Nothing is better than having responsibility for a creature that expresses unconditional love. A dog or a cat, or any pet can help a person cope with negative feelings throughout the day, with something to look forward to when he or she comes home. Depression is hard to live with, and no one has to do it alone.