Family pets help with feelings of isolation and anxiety

by Luann Morgan
Adams County Pet Rescue | May 5, 2020 9:03 PM

It goes without saying that many people are feeling pressure as the country continues to be “locked down” in the face of COVID-19. It’s not easy sheltering in place when you are used to being out and about, for work and pleasure.

What about those who typically suffer from anxiety and depression, even before we were asked to shelter in place? If they have pets, they can turn to them to help ease some of their discomfort.

In a recent survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 74 percent of pet owners said having a pet improves their mental health and help with symptoms of depression. In fact, if you are feeling lonely — as many people are with not being able to get out and socialize — pets can break the cycle. They offer unconditional love, which can be soothing when feeling isolated.

“Animals pick up on when their owners are distressed,” Perpetua Neo, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, said. “When they sense you aren’t feeling well, they offer comfort.”

There are many ways pets help us through tough times, beginning with helping to keep us on a regular schedule. Knowing you have to feed, walk or care for a pet may give you a sense of purpose and routine.

They also have a relaxing effect. Petting or stroking an animal can improve your mood by increasing oxytocin levels and reducing cortisol, the infamous stress-related hormone. And even brief interactions will ease anxiety and fear.

Research shows pet owners have significantly lower blood pressure and heart rates. When we are with our pets, we slow our breath, speech and minds. Studies show even nursing home residents feel less lonely with some quiet time with a dog.

Pets are without opinions, critiques and verdicts. We can divulge our innermost thoughts to our pets and not be judged. They take us out of our heads and into another reality.

“It’s tough to ruminate about how awful you feel and will feel forever when your dog is breathing in your face,” PsychCentral reports. “The healing power of touch is undisputed.”

Depression research has also shown that with a pet comes responsibility, which promotes mental health. This, in turn, can help build self-esteem and positive reinforcement.

Steven Feldman, of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, said 80 million U.S. households have pets, so those looking for relief from anxiety, depression or stress may be able to find help right at home in the form of a wet nose or wagging tail. He calls it “the pet effect.”

“Living with a pet comes with many benefits, including constant companionship, love and affection,” Feldman said. “Positive human-animal interaction … helps alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness and social isolation.”

If you already have a pet, take advantage of the boost to your mental health your dog or cat can provide. For those looking to adopt a pet, Adams County Pet Rescue can help. By contacting them, the staff can help you find the perfect pet for your home.

And for those who are unable to have a pet in their home, volunteers are always needed to help socialize and walk the animals at the shelter. Call for more information.

Adams County Pet Rescue is located at 1961 Bench Road east of the fairgrounds. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The facility is closed Mondays and Thursdays for cleaning.

To contact ACPR, call 509-488-5514 or email adopt@AdamsCountyPetRescue. Be sure to visit the website at www.adamscountypetrescue.com and like their Facebook page.