Unhealthful stress can come from a seemingly endless number of factors. But thankfully, stress relief strategies also have plenty of variety of their own. One often overlooked way to cope with stress is caring for a pet like a dog or a cat.
It can be easy to view pets only as an extra responsibility if you’re already stressed out. Still, many people have discovered that a pet helps reduce feelings of toxic stress.
In her “Psychology Today” article, “Is Your Pet a Pandemic Stress Buster?” Shawn M. Burn, Ph.D. shares the following:
“Have you ever thought that your relationship with your pet is one of the best in your life? Pets provide simple, supportive, confidential support without criticism, advice, or conflict. They provide unconditional positive regard and make us feel needed, wanted, and valued.”
At first thought, this idea may seem surprising. However, many studies back up the positive effects of a family pet on mental health. Why exactly are pets worthy of consideration if you or someone you love needs relief from stress symptoms? Here are several key reasons.
Pets Allow You to Feel Unconditionally Loved
We all have a strong need to give and receive love. That thought seems easy and simple enough in theory but can be more difficult to experience in reality. Too many of our relationships can feel transactional. And sometimes, even our closest relationships seem conditional rather than the opposite.
We all have limits to the quality of love we’re able to give and receive. The nice thing is that a pet can help you feel appreciated with no strings attached in a way many human interactions often can’t. After all, your furry friend won’t care what your productivity level is at work, how you’re dressed, or the many other factors that can make us feel more or less valued by people.
Not surprisingly, the more cared for we feel, the easier figuring out how to relieve stress becomes. Having a pet alone isn’t enough for you to experience a healthy amount of love from others. However, it can still make a big difference.
Pets Help with Physical Relaxation
Pets can help calm the physical effects of stress, such as heart rate and breathing. Because your physical body becomes more relaxed, your mental faculties also calm down.
Pets Help with Purpose
Just like we all need to be loved by others, we also need purpose. It’s easy to think of our purpose as the sum of everything on our to-do list. While those tasks need to be done, they don’t always make you feel more purposeful.
Especially when you’re super busy but don’t feel purposeful, that can be really stressful. We’re capable of much more than we often realize. But when someone’s purpose begins to flag, their mental and physical energy also plummet. It becomes challenging to view life in a positive light or to even get out of bed sometimes.
Earlier in this article, we discussed how we all need to give and receive love to be healthy. We also talked about how pets can make us feel more loved. Well, the opposite side of that is loving and caring for others. You could say our greatest purpose, boiled down, is to work for the good of others—to essentially love them.
Regardless of your work type, losing sight of this reality is sometimes easy. The same goes for finding meaning in our relationships. You may get bogged down with paperwork, red tape, disagreements, commutes, and many other factors that don’t seem very meaningful or purposeful. These tasks or obstacles can make you feel like you’re going in the opposite direction of your purpose. Like you’re moving ever further from your fundamental mission of improving the lives of those around you.
Struggling to feel purposeful can lead to all sorts of challenges, including fatigue, depression, and burnout. You may eventually struggle to see the point of it all, and how to make a meaningful difference within the framework you currently live in.
If you regularly feel this way, you’ll eventually need to make some changes. Maybe some of those moves will involve switching careers or shifting the way you view certain tasks in your day. Another valuable way to add purpose to your life is doing things outside of work where you can directly show others you care, including caring for a pet.
Having a pet is a great way to feel like you’re making a difference. For instance, there’s no paperwork involved when you feed your pet or cat. You simply carry out your purpose of helping others at the simplest level.
And that increased purpose helps life feel less stressful. You also may adopt an animal at a local shelter, making this process even more fulfilling. Your pet ends up with a much better life just because you showed how much you care.
Pets Help with Stress Caused by Isolation
This one is similar to needing to receive love from others but is a little different. All of us sometimes feel more isolated from others than is healthy. Especially for people living alone, working from home, or experiencing large blocks of time without much interaction with other people, having a pet around can help with not feeling isolation stress.
These interactions are undoubtedly different from human socialization, but they’re still a significant benefit. A good dog, for instance, can also alert you to potential threats, making you feel safer and more secure.
Pets Encourage Increased Physical Activity
Thousands of reasons exist why we become stressed out. One widespread stressor results from a lack of physical exercise. Our bodies and minds become more strained when we don’t move as we should. We just don’t feel or think our best without proper exercise. We’ll keep struggling with physical and mental ailments until this need is addressed.
Regular exercise is an excellent way to experience stress and anxiety relief, but neglecting this need in a sedentary culture is easy. Having a pet, such as a dog that needs daily walks, makes it easier to keep moving. You recognize that your pet requires exercise just as much as you do.
Having a Tough Time Finding Stress Relief? Counseling May Help
Bringing a pet home is an excellent way to destress for kids and adults alike. At the same time, this won’t be an effective stress-management strategy for everyone. Maybe you can’t have a pet at the moment for various reasons or you just don’t enjoy being around animals. If that’s where you’re at, that’s OK too.
Discovering stress management techniques is a lifelong journey. This process looks a little different for all of us. Another excellent way to work through life’s pressures is through stress counseling. You discover proven ways to decrease and handle stress better.