Have you ever come home from a long, hard day at work feeling like no one understood you, only to find consolation from a pet? You didn’t care how your companion sensed your emotional state, you just knew you felt better. Many people believe that animals have an innate ability to empathize with humans. Regardless of whether that’s scientifically valid, companion animals are highly beneficial to people struggling with mental health problems.
A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that pet owners had lower heart rates and blood pressure, and recovered more quickly than others from emotional stress. The National Service Animal Registry has confirmed that pets provide a level of emotional support that calms psychological symptoms. With little more than a welcoming face and a loving lick, animals can calm emotional upset with no special training.
Pets are friends and companions who don’t ask questions or pass judgment; they simply show affection. And that’s exactly what people suffering from emotional problems need to help them cope with the challenges of everyday life. It’s a mutually supportive relationship, perhaps the only one that many people with mental health issues are capable of having. “Your companion animal trusts you implicitly to care for his every need. In return, you regain the self-confidence that you can not only care for yourself, but for another.”
Choosing and caring for a pet
Choosing the right pet for an emotionally challenged individual can be tricky. It’s important to consider factors like personality (meaning both owner and pet) and home environment, as well as the nature of the prospective owner’s condition. Those who respond negatively to sensory overload should look for an animal that’s quiet and easy to handle. On the other hand, an interactive pet that likes attention and lots of play time may be the ideal companion for someone who’s emotionally withdrawn, or suffers from severe anxiety issues. Birds that talk or dogs that respond well to instruction can encourage communication and combat depression.
For individuals who lack confidence, there’s nothing like the feeling of responsibility and accomplishment that comes from caring for a pet that needs careful attention, such as a fish, hamster, or guinea pig.
Man’s best friend
Dogs have an affinity for human beings that’s unlike any other animal. It’s what makes them so supportive to people with mental health issues. The wide variety of breed, size, and temperament can be a real advantage because it gives you a long and varied list to choose from, making it easier to find a dog that’s suitable. A playful pug or a Pyrenees can help reduce depression and anxiety, and the playfulness of energetic breeds such as toy poodles, Pomeranians, beagles and cocker spaniels is endlessly infectious and engaging. If you choose to bring a dog home, remember that it’s generally a good idea to go with a small-to-medium size pooch.
Keep it stress-free
Having a pet, whatever the reason, is a 24/7 responsibility so be careful to choose one that isn’t “high maintenance.” That’s especially important for people coping with more serious mental health problems. It’s not uncommon for an emotionally challenged person to have trouble coping with a pet – it’s too stressful and defeats the purpose of having an animal for emotional support. If this is a possibility, it’s a good idea to make sure a friend or family member is available and willing to help with tasks like getting vaccinations and registrations renewed, taking the animal to the vet when needed, and providing care when its owner needs help.
When it comes to seeking a companion animal, by approaching the situation with care and consideration, the emotional and psychological benefits for individuals with emotional problems will far outweigh the responsibilities.