In these uncertain times, having a fur friend can be a great way of helping to manage anxiety and stress. With the Australian Medical Association (AMA) concerned by the increases in mental health-related issues, having a pet might be the best medicine you need to help get through 2020.
From the first study conducted 30 years ago*, research has demonstrated the many benefits pets can have on our mental health and well-being. Pets can help us cope with anxiety and stress or deal with depression and chronic pain. Pets have a wonderful way of keeping us grounded and in the moment.
The term Animal Assisted Therapy is a widely used term to describe the way animals are used to enhance and complement traditional treatments. Depending on the nature of the therapy, support animals can be at-home pets, event-based animals (horse riding) or volunteer-based animal visits. Either way, animals can provide calm, comfort and safety – helping to develop a better sense of self-worth, trust and improved emotional states.
It doesn’t matter what age you are; having a pet brings enormous benefits.
For children, a pet can help develop emotional connections, build empathy and calm the mind. For children with Autism and ADHD, pets provide a focus for their thoughts. Assistance Dogs Australia is an organisation that places dogs with children with Autism. When these children interact with the dogs they show remarkable improvement across their social, verbal and cognitive skills.
For adults, pets can have many benefits beyond helping to reduce anxiety. Pet’s can help keep you more active. Walking a dog is not only a great stress-relieving activity; it’s good for the heart! Having to take care of a pet reminds you to take care of yourself. Those routines that your pet loves and demands encourage you to develop your own routines.
Loneliness can be one of the biggest challenges facing seniors. With the added complications of Covid-19 and its dangers to our senior citizens, isolation has become a real problem. Pets are great companions – they love to be with their owners, and the affection you get from a pet can lift your spirits.
For those living in aged care, animals can help improve mental health. Studies have shown that when animals are introduced into aged care facilities, there is an immediate positive effect. The Alzheimer’s Society’s Living with Dementia 2011 magazine quoted Jane Fossey “spending time with visiting animals has been shown to reduce blood pressure and anxiety, improving social interaction and sleeping patterns. It can also reduce the late-afternoon restlessness that can affect people with Dementia.” Additionally, Dementia research has shown that pets can help reduce agitation, improve eating, increase physical activity, and reduce confusion.
If you’re deciding to get yourself a pet consider your situation, how your pet might integrate into your lifestyle and the level of commitment you’re prepared to give. We’ve pulled together a quick list of some pets to consider:
Interacting with a friendly dog helps to reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase oxytocin; a naturally occurring chemical that reduces stress. Dogs are the perfect pet to help calm hyperactive children.
A recent study by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention found that 643 children with a pet dog had lower anxiety levels (12 percent) compared to those that didn’t have a pet dog (21 percent).
Pets live in the moment, and none do this better than cats. Cats have a tremendous ability to keep you grounded in the moment and help improve mood. Cats also have a way of demanding attention; helping to distract teens from the issues bothering them.
Equine Therapy programs use the power of human-horse nonverbal communications to create connections that allow people to address their emotions and anxieties.
Equine-Assisted Therapy tends to have a specific goal – the use of horses to reach a rehabilitative goal. For that reason, Equine Therapy is usually run by a medical professional. Horses can be an emotional mirror for humans. They can pick up human emotions and respond accordingly, helping people identify with their own emotions.
Beyond the great happiness that a pet can bring us, pets have so much more to offer. Through life’s ups and downs, pets can provide us with the support and comfort we need.
Zest Personalised Care is a registered provider of NDIS disability support services with two decades of experience in the care industry. Please get in touch if you’d like any more information about how we work with individuals to achieve their goals.
*Study: by Psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania.