It’s becoming more and more common for a companion animal to be used in therapy sessions or for mental health recovery purposes.
Some therapeutic interactions with animals may sound strange to some. Most pet owners can testify to the comforting aspects of having an animal companion.Furthermore, it’s not at all unusual for animals to serve as some type of aide to a human companion.
Most people are familiar with the service dogs that assist those who are disabled. They can help humans navigate their streets, retrieve dropped items, and even remind their humans to take medication. Is it a stretch to consider that if animals can help humans with physical limitations, they can also help humans with mental health problems?
Take a look at some of the ways that companion animals help humans with mental health recovery.
1. Decrease Stress Hormones
Some studies have shown that the hormones related to feelings of stress, like cortisol, decrease while a person interacts with a pet. And not only are the stress hormones reduced, but hormones that produce feelings of happiness are increased.
Just a few minutes of playing with a pet causes a person’s levels of dopamine and serotonin to rise. So, a pet can help a person feel relaxed because both of these hormones are involved in relaxing the nervous system,
This is an excellent benefit of companion animals for people who suffer from anxiety. Anxiety can leave a person feeling tense and wired, even when there’s no objective reason for those feelings. They may have difficulty relaxing on their own.
A companion animal can help promote the feelings of calm and peace that an anxious person needs to wind down and decompress emotionally.
2. Providing Purpose
Mental health issues can leave sufferers feeling helpless.
When you have a mental illness, you might feel as if your own mind – and sometimes your body as well – have turned against, leaving you unable to do things that people without mental illnesses do, or at least unable to do those things as easily as someone without mental illness does.
People who suffer from mental health conditions often need support from family, friends, medical providers, and other caregivers. It’s good to get that support, but it can leave the person feeling dependent and unhappy about it. They might feel as if they are constantly leaning on others without contributing anything.
This doesn’t mean that people with mental health problems aren’t capable of being independent. However, they might have difficulty seeing themselves as independent and valuable.
No matter how useful or helpful a companion animal may be, they’re dependent on their humans in a number of undeniable ways. Animals companions kept as pets rely on their humans to keep them sheltered, fed, hydrated, and safe.
How Can I Remind Myself That I Have A Purpose?
Companion animals also need and enjoy the attention and affection that they receive from their humans. They have ways of demonstrating that when they want attention or when they’re pleased by receiving attention. In this way, companion animals make their humans feel needed and provide them with a sense of purpose.
If you know that your animal companion is depending on you for food, exercise, and affection, you have a reason to get up in the morning and a reason to believe that you’re needed in the world, and this can be very important for a person who has been feeling as if they’re always the one asking for help or support.
The act of taking care of another living thing has real benefits to mental health. Companion animals ensure that their humans always have a purpose.
3. Promoting Mindfulness
Humans spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future.
Those thoughts are important – you can’t change the past, but you can take important lessons from it, and while you don’t have total control over your future, you need to be able to plan for it, and it’s good to have dreams and goals about the future.
However, it’s also easy to get stuck on thoughts of the past or future that are harmful or destructive, especially when you suffer from certain mental health conditions.
It’s not healthy to dwell on things that already happened or to constantly worry about things that may or may not happen. And it is good to sometimes take the time to simply be mindful of the moment you’re in – to experience and enjoy what’s happening right now.
This is mindfulness.
Animals live in the moment. They don’t worry about what might happen in the future or what happened yesterday, last week, or last year. And because animals are fully present in the current moment, they can help humans learn to do the same.
How Does a Companion Animal Help Humans Live in the Moment?
When you focus on playing with an animal or smiling at the cute things that they’re doing, you’re distracted from ruminations on the past or future and living more fully in the present. These interactions can help you learn to center yourself and be more mindful generally, and the success of therapeutic activities that involve animals bears that out.
For example, you may or may not have heard of goat yoga – which is essentially a regular yoga class, but with goats. It may sound silly, but participants have found that interacting with goats helps promote mindfulness and a calm, happy environment. Goats are more friendly and intelligent than most believe and enjoy interacting with people.
When a goat joins your yoga session, you can’t help but be more mindful of what you’re experiencing.
Companionship is important to everyone and can be a necessary component in the journey to better mental health. But there’s no reason why a companion has to be human.
Companion animals are well-suited to bolster and support improved mental health.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do companion animals decrease stress hormones?
Just a few minutes of playing with a pet causes a person’s levels of dopamine and serotonin to rise. Both of these hormones are help with relaxing the nervous system, so a pet can help a person relax.
Can a companion animal help provide a sense of purpose?
The act of taking care of another living thing is an act that has real benefits to mental health. Companion animals provide a reason to get up in the morning and a reason to believe that you’re needed.
How can a companion animal promote mindfulness?
Humans spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future while animals live in the moment. Animals are fully present in the current moment, they can help their humans learn to do the same thing.