Sorry I haven’t posted in almost three weeks. My birthday weekend was super busy and all last week I had the stomach flu, which was awful. Know what sucks more than having mental illness? The stomach flu!
No, that’s a joke but having the flu isn’t fun for anyone. Add in that awful combination of anxiety and being housebound, well, it can make anyone with or without mental illness feel crazy and frustrated. At least I’m well enough now that I can stand up for more than ten minutes and venture out for a little bit of that fresh late fall air.
Speaking of which, I missed Halloween this year! 😦 I had my costume all planned out, I was going to be The Phoenix, Jean Grey’s dark half from X-Men, and I didn’t even get to wear my costume. And Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year. No joke! So I was thoroughly disappointed. And we only had six trick-or-treaters! That’s crazy. Do kids not trick or treat anymore? Weird.
Anyway, I figured after being down and out for a few weeks and my last post being a heavy blow, I’d figure I would write an upbeat, lighthearted post to even the mood over these last few weeks. So what do I want to talk about? Pets.
That’s right. Pets. Cats. Dogs. Ferrets. Rats. What have you.
Many of us have had pets growing up or own pets today. I myself have my cat Arty (alias Atermis Jean-Ralpeo Thomas) and recently had a pet ferret, Crixcus, who we unfortunately lost September past due to cancer. RIP Baby, my cutie girl.
(PS: I finally figured out how to insert photos into my blog posts, YAY!)
Being cooped up all week with the flu and barely able to move from the couch, I was thankful for my kitty cat Arty. Even though he is a cuddly cat already, I’m willing to bet he sensed I was sick, for he was extremely cuddly this last week. He would even lie on my chest and pur for hours, something he usually doesn’t do.
Besides having a buddy to snuggle with while your sick, there is also another positive side to having pets. Pets are good for mental health! That’s right, those little bundles of fur and love are good for your mental health. So I decided to compile my own list of why pets are good for mental health.
1. They provide unconditional love
Relationships with other humans are tough, especially when you have a mental illness. Sometimes friends don’t fully understand what you’re going through, parents and family members have to walk a fine line between being caring and not too overbearing. And of course our love lives are no easier. Our partners see us struggle and though they provide endless love (which they should), couples fight sometimes. The only non-complicated relationship is with you pet. Your dog doesn’t care if you have depression or anxiety, your cat doesn’t care if you forgot to give them a wet food treat that day (or actually they might, cats can be psycho). Our pets provide unconditional love. They’re there for you with the good and are excellent when you’re sad. Unconditional love. It’s awesome.
2. They are excellent listeners
Sometimes when you’re suffering from mental illness, it’s hard to communicate with the ones you love. While therapy is an important part of healing, sometimes we don’t want to waste our (limited) time in therapy complaining about the little things in life. So who can you complain to? Your pet. Pets are good listeners. Having a particular bad day? Vent to your cat or dog. They’ll just be happy your paying attention to them. While they might not give the soundest advice (except beg for treats), they like to listen. Your dog wags its tail when you talk, your cat purrs. Just by talking to our furry friends, we can feel a bit better and less pressure. It may be a one-sided conversation, but at least it gets you talking.
3. Pets help reduce stress
Feeling the anxiety flutter in your chest? Feel like the world is bearing down on your shoulders and you are unsure what to do? Pet your cat or dog. Humans naturally feel better when we have physical contact with others. But what if your boyfriend is at work when you’re feeling that onset of panic? Grab your cat. The actual act of petting your pets has shown to help lower blood pressure and reduce heart rates. Also, the sound of cats purring has been scientifically proven to help make us feel better. It’s a total win-win. You can lower your anxiety levels and your cat get some lovin’. And really, what’s better than a cuddle session with your cat?
4. Pets help you feel less lonely
Feeling lonely is a common feeling for people suffering from depression. Many people even admit to feeling lonely even in a room full of people. Loneliness can leave you feeling empty and it’s not good for your health. This is where a furry friend can help. Pets provide us with companionship. They become your best buddy and your favourite face to see in the morning (next to your partner of course). For myself personally, I end up spending many days home alone. I think if it wasn’t for Arty, I would feel extremely lonely. He may not be human, but he’s a presence in the room. A comfort to know I am not alone. He’s also good company to have even when Zack is around. He especially likes sitting with us, watching us play Skip-Bo and listening to Ed Sheeran. We may have rescued him from the shelter, but he is certainly saving me.
5. Pets can get you into a daily routine
For people struggling with depression and anxiety, it is good to set daily routines for yourself. A routine can give you a sense of purpose, especially on the days where it is hard to get out of bed. Having a pet around gives you a responsibility that someone else is depending on you. They’re needs can help keep you in a routine. They need feeding, litter changing (or need to go outside), they need exercise and walks. All of these are good ways to keep you busy on the long days. It can help you stay on track and that added responsibility can give you a sense of purpose, something mental illness patients feel they are lacking.
6. Pets get you exercising
Well maybe a cat isn’t the best pet for exercising with, though Arty does love doing yoga with me (aka he lies on the mat while I try to stretch around him. Ha.) Dogs on the other hand can definitely get you exercising. Small or large, dogs still need walking, which means you need to bundle up and get out into that cold, but refreshing, fall air. I don’t need to explain to you the health benefits of walking, but we all know it’s good for you. Walking on a daily basis with your furry loved one helps you feel better and can make you feel healthier. Total win-win.
7. Pets can get you social interaction
Your out walking with your dog. How many times does someone stop and gush over how cute they are? It happens all the time. Even just people smiling at your pet can make you feel better. If someone stops you and asks them about your dog, engage them in polite conversation. I know when you have social anxiety, this can be an alarming situation, but no one says you have to confess your life story. Keep the focus on your dog and then continue on your way. We all need social interactions with others, it makes us feel good and it fights loneliness. Maybe you’re not making a new best friend, but just the act of talking to another person can make you feel good. Who knows, maybe you might even score a coffee date? Dare to dream.
8. Your pet can become your life saver!
This is big! We all know some people need service dogs, but do you know you can also get therapy dogs? This is especially big for people suffering from PTSD. The Canadian Service Dog Foundation helps train and pair patients with therapy dogs to help aid them in times of crisis. For example, they can be trained to retrieve medication if you’re having a panic attack or use methods to help sooth you, such as placing their body weight on you. This is something I am truly fascinated by and wish this was something I knew about when I was first diagnosed. They even have therapy cats! The only downside is, therapy dogs don’t have the same public rights as service dogs, but I’m sure talking to store mangers in your community can help. I still get panic attacks venturing to the grocery store or big stores like Wal-Mart, I bet a therapy dog would be excellent for keeping me grounded. Again, this is amazing. If you need more information, contact your doctor and contact the C.S.D.F. by clicking on the link above. Who knows, you’re pet could be your hero in a time of crisis.
(Circus playing (destroying) Mark the X-mas Moose.)
9. Playing is fun for both you and your pet
Who doesn’t love to play? With a pet around, the twelve year-old in you is allowed to play freely too. When Crixcus was alive, I use to play with her for two-three hours daily (at intervals – she was little, she tired easily). Playing with all types of pets is beneficial for you both. Again, you’re being active and getting your blood pumping. But playing also makes us feel happy and gives us some time to feel a little carefree. When the weight of the world is on your shoulders, it’s ok to escape for an hour and just enjoy your time with you and your pet. It makes the heart feel good.
10. Our little fur babies just make life much more happier
Even after all the bad, we always have our pets. Even if they misbehave sometimes and even when they grow old and leave us, pets provide us with happy thoughts and moments. They make us smile. They teach us unconditional love. And above all else, they make living life a little more easier. At the end of the day, our furry friends are helping us just as much as we help them. By loving them, they are giving us good mental health. And there is nothing more rewarding and magical then having a furry friend.
(I may have rescued him, but he is rescuing me. <3)
Of course, not everyone can afford to have a pet. So make sure you are financially stable and are ready to accept a pet in your home before you run to the shelter to adopt. As much as we need love too, they also need a home environment that is stable for them. If you are unable to afford a pet, see if you can volunteer at your local shelter, maybe see if you can take the dogs for walks? Or if your friends have pets, offer to help take care of them if they need to go on a trip or ask for playdates. There is nothing like quality friend time than bonding over your cat or dog. Even though bringing a pet into your home is a big decision, it is very rewarding in the end.
Until next time,