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How a Companion Animal Helps You Live Better with Mental Illness

Hi guys!

We're here this with Woof Woof Wednesday with something a little different. We've got a guest blog from Jessica at Our Best Friends all about how having an animal can help with mental health illnesses. According to Mind, approximately 1 in 4 of us suffer with some sort of mental health issue, whether it be OCD, depression or anxiety. Chances are either you yourself have suffered or you know someone who is going through it. This is something I personally know all too well and I honestly can say that animals are one of the best remedies. Whether it's that constant love you need, a reason to get up in the morning or to face your fears head on, go out and see the world to make sure your dog gets that exercise - animals provide so many benefits to us both emotionally and physically. Animals truly are the best! Need more convincining? Read all about it in Jessica's blog below!

Love Ms. WildPaws

How a Companion Animal Helps You Live Better with Mental Illness

There’s a lot of truth to the saying 'dog is man’s best friend'. Dogs and other animals provide immense emotional and physical health benefits to humans. This is why a companion animal can help if you struggle with a mental health condition or are recovering from addiction. Adopting a companion animal can be mutually beneficial, but a successful relationship depends on choosing the right animal for your needs and lifestyle.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Why Have a Companion Animal?

Most people who have a mental health condition live at home and only have occasional visits to a mental health professional. While you can’t have a therapist with you 24/7, a companion animal is always there for you. They provide the love and support you need, as well as being a distraction which helps you find balance on your worst days.

Often, people who struggle with mental health feel socially isolated (this can be even more pronounced for someone who is in recovery from addiction). A sense of isolation may make mental illness worse. However, a companion animal helps reduce these feelings. A study by NPR shows people who suffered with mental illness actually considered their pets to be a part of their social network. If you’re recovering from substance abuse, it’s possible you’ve lost friends through the years, but a companion animal provides love that is unconditional - without judgment.

Animals also force you to be more social even when you don’t feel like it. If you get a dog, they will need regular walks and possibly socialization with other dogs, such as going to a dog park. Once you’re out - the fresh air, sunshine and time in nature are all therapeutic. Of course, taking your dog for walks is also great physical activity, which lowers blood pressure and has numerous benefits for mental health. 

According to The Huffington Post, connecting with your pet releases oxytocin, a hormone which reduces stress and anxiety by slowing your heart rate and breathing. In fact, studies have shown oxytocin is not the only neurotransmitter related to mental well-being which is affected by petting animals. Petting animals also increases beta endorphins and dopamine, which elevate mood, and serotonin, which is what most antidepressants target. 

Having a companion animal also gives you a sense of purpose, which is especially therapeutic when you’re in recovery from addiction. If you often feel withdrawn: having an animal combats that tendency because they rely on your care. explains: “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 Your Companion Animal

Different types of animals, even breeds, need different types of care so it’s important to take your time determining which companion animal best fits your lifestyle. You can make a big impact on the life of an animal by choosing to adopt. If you’re looking at adopting a dog, a few things to consider are the dog’s age, the breed or mix, size of the dog, and their personality. Modern Dog Magazine suggests searching shelters or rescue centers that are within relatively close driving distance so you can make multiple visits. Adopting a companion animal is a big deal, so you don’t want to make an emotional or impulsive decision.

Once you choose a pet to adopt, keep in mind that there will be an adjustment period when you bring them home. A rescue animal will have a historythat affects how they react and behave with you. As soon as you bring your new pet home, go ahead and set boundaries and expectations. You and your pet will also both benefit from setting a routine for their care, such as a regular time for feedings and walks.

The beautiful thing about having a companion animal is the relationship is mutual. Your companion animal provides the constant love and support you need, plus health and therapeutic benefits. In turn, you regain a sense of purpose by caring for an animal who otherwise may not have a loving home.

Remember, if you're suffering with mental health issues then there are plenty of people you can speak to including your local GP or Mind. You're not alone. You can also check out this blog from John at Relax Like a Boss who gives his top tips for beating anxiety.

If you're thinking of adopting an animal please make sure you are ready to give it the time, love and patience it needs.

Please consider your local rescue or other animal rescues. There are lots to choose from:

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