So far, in our weeklong look at increasing our stress resilience we have examined:
Step #1 Get Outside
Step #2 Get Some Exercise
Step #3 Get Enough Sleep
Step #4 Reach Out and Call Someone
Step #5 Play!
Step #6 Turn on the Music!
As we near the end of the week I’m struggling to choose our last step! Not because I can’t come up with one. Actually just the opposite…There are so many possibilities! We could examine the positive affects of a healthy diet, meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices, yoga, mindfulness practices, journaling, massage and other physical touch, just to name a few. Anything that engages your senses has the potential to reduce your stress as it calms your limbic system, the part of your brain that controls emotion. But since I have to choose just one more I’m going to pick one of my personal favorites:
Step #7 Spend Time with Animals
It’s estimated that 67% of US households have a pet, so obviously many of us already know how pets can increase the quality of our lives. But perhaps you take for granted, or haven’t realized the benefit that owning a pet can have on your mental health. Healthy social connections, including those with pets, play an important role in good mental health. Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (stress hormones) and elevate oxytocin and dopamine (feel-good brain chemicals)!
Here are just some of the mental health benefits that pets may provide:
- Having pets, such as a dog, increases the opportunity to get outside and exercise…and we already looked at why that is important ( See Days 1 and 2).
- Walking a dog also reduces isolation. Have you noticed how folks are more likely to start up a conversation with you when you’re walking your dog than when you’re walking alone?
- Having a pet increases the likelihood that folks have a daily routine with purpose and rewards.
- Pets can reduce loneliness by increasing companionship. This is especially true for the elderly and for those living alone.
- Pets may help reduce anxiety and stress. Stroking or sitting with a pet can help us relax.
- Animals live in the moment and being with them helps us do the same!
Now if you don’t already have a pet I am not encouraging you to rush out and find one today! Choosing the right pet for your household is crucial. Having a pet is a commitment to the lifetime of the animal and nothing to be taken on without careful consideration. It’s a big responsibility that comes with a commitment of time and financial resources. But if the time is right for you and your family it may be something to carefully consider. And if you already have a pet, consider spending more time with it! Increasing the time spent together may have physical and mental health benefits, including increasing your resilience when stressed!