Today’s blog is to mark day 3 of Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) in the UK. The theme for 2016 is Relationships. ‘Good relationships help you live longer and happier lives with fewer physical and mental health problems.’ My topic today is the relationship we have with our pets.
When I am struggling with depression, I have found one of the most therapeutic relationships I can have, is the one with my cat. Our pets are instinctual creatures and care for us unconditionally. My cat, Charlie, is such a comfort. He nuzzles into me and looks up with his big eyes and loving face, just at the moment I am feeling at my lowest. He decides it is time for cuddles and provides me with affection; he does, of course, get belly rubs and chin tickles in return!
He doesn’t leave my side; when I sit on the couch, he is on my knee. If I am at the desk working on the laptop, he has a blanket to lie beside me. When I am in bed, he has his blanket to lie beside me. He is spoiled, but he spoils me too. It is a loving, two-way relationship.
Before Charlie, I had two cats sharing my life who did the same. When I was in a deep depressive episode, they just seemed to know, and they stayed by my side day and night giving me love and affection.
As well as an emotional relationship, another of the benefits we get from our pets is a human/animal chemical bond. When we are cuddling and stroking our pets, we are strengthening the relationship with them. At the same time, our brains produce well known ‘feel good’ chemicals, including oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine. This release of chemicals serves to reduces stress and activate the brain’s reward centre. We just can’t help but feel good. The fantastic news is, it’s doing exactly the same for our pets! This process serves to develop the relationship further and creates a feeling of comfort and security for them. Research has found that petting an animal can also reduce our blood pressure and have a positive effect on our mental wellbeing.
The loving, emotional relationship with our pets works two ways and I find this is so beneficial for my mental health, particularly when times when I am struggling. Knowing Charlie depends on me has pulled me from the brink of very dark times and kept me going. Having him in my life is so rewarding and comforting. It is a wonderful thing to have a relationship with a pet!
My related blogs for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 are: