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5 Ways Animals Can Help Those With Depression

Laying in bed and having your pet come to cuddle with you, or hovering over your laptop while you work, gives a comforting and calming feeling (even if it’s sometimes annoying when the cat starts pawing at the keys while you’re trying to type). The way animals are able to enhance our moods and our mental health—WebMD notes that the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute found 74 percent of pet owners felt their mental health had improved since welcoming a pet into their lives—is why they can be used as an aid for those suffering with depression.

Pets offer comfort, companionship, and love, as well as the attention that can make an individual feel special, connected, and forget the feelings of worthlessness. "A pet can remind you that you're not alone," life coach Desiree Wiercyski told WebMD. "Pets offer unconditional love, which can be extraordinarily soothing when feeling isolated."

It also helps to know that you have to feed and care for this animal, which can get an individual into a routine, create structure, and make them more responsible. Even if you don’t want to leave the bed, you know that your pet needs to be walked, or you need to go to the store to buy more food or kitty litter. Therefore, this also helps pet owners get more exercise.

Another way that animals are able to help their owners is their ability to ease anxiety and produce a sense of calm. "Touch helps increase oxytocin levels and reduces cortisol, the infamous stress-related hormone," Wiercyski told the publication.

Pets can also provide a distraction. According to Everyday Health, animals (or in their specific example, dogs) are able to “take us out of our heads and into another reality,” which can be effective in helping individuals not constantly dwell on how awful they feel.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that interactions with animals can help with stress, depression, feelings of isolation, and anxiety. Animals can also help people manage their long-term mental health conditions because they provide security and support to the individual. Plus, pets can encourage social interaction—complete strangers may approach someone walking their dog to engage in conversation.

However, despite all of the benefits of having an animal in your life, the organization notes that a pet should not be a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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