The holidays are a time of joy and celebration, family gatherings and gift giving. But the holidays are not a joyous time for everyone. There are many people who are alone, depressed and lonely.
My topic for Christmas is about how our pets enhance our lives and help us combat depression and loneliness. I was blessed with the companionship, love, and support of my mother for 54 years. She was my best friend, my confidant, my adviser, and my cheerleader. My mother did not agree with everything that I did, but she never stopped loving and supporting me.
I tragically lost my big brother, Ed, at the young age of 49. Prior to Ed marrying at 40, we spent much time together and traveled to Florida yearly. Ed was a manager of a finance company and a wonderful resource when I had problems at work. Ed gave me the best advice in dealing with difficult situations.
The holidays are a difficult time for me, and this year seems a little worse. I surround myself with animals because I love them, and they provide joy and companionship in my daily living. Someone just recently said that the animals are a lot of work, considering I am now a senior. My response was that they keep me moving. I would be much less active, and sadder, without them in my life.
I am not alone. In a recent survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 74% of pet owners said having a pet improved their mental health. Studies back this up and show that activities with animals help with symptoms of depression.
What pets can offer if you’re depressed
Comfort, companionship, and love. If depression makes you feel lonely, pets can break the cycle.
A pet can remind you that you’re not alone. Pets offer unconditional love, which can be extraordinarily soothing when feeling isolated.
My Cairn Terrier, Smudge, adores me. His entire world consists of him, and me. How flattering to be so obviously cherished. If I am feeling less adequate or am prone to moments of self pity, Smudge remains non-judgmental and adoring. When I hold Smudge close and he gives me those sweet little butterfly kisses, all of my bad thoughts and feelings will melt away. Animals are very connected in ways that people aren’t.
Animals pick up on when their owners are distressed. When they sense you’re not feeling well, they offer comfort.
A regular schedule
Knowing you have to feed, walk, or care for your pet may give you a sense of purpose and routine.
Even when I don’t feel like getting out of bed or leaving the house, I know they’re depending on me. Right after I lost my brother, we were preparing to travel to New York for his funeral. I was numb inside. At that time, I had my 6-month-old Cairn Terrier puppy, Toby. On the last day I spoke to Ed on the phone, he had actually called to see how Toby was doing, since he had been neutered on that day. Ed passed away hours later.
I remember that I had to get out of bed to take Toby outside to potty. I did not want to, but I had to. It was an early August morning, and Toby was merrily bouncing in the grass, playing with a blade that had bounced back when he stepped on it. Toby was delighted with each new discovery, and I was thinking how oblivious he was to our personal tragedy. But the joy of this puppy at that moment pulled me out of a very dark place, and Toby provided companionship and love to me and my Mom for many years to come.
A sense of calm
Pets have a relaxing effect. Petting or stroking an animal can improve your mood. Even the sound of a cat purring can be soothing. When I have had a tough day at work and return home to be joyfully greeted by my furkids, it immediately elevates my mood and improves my coping mechanisms with life’s struggles. It might not change things, but their positive energy gives you the strength to go on.
Studies with therapy dogs suggest even brief interactions ease anxiety and fear. And this is why I love therapy work. In a recent survey, people with severe depression felt more relaxed, less lonely, and had less pain after short visits with a therapy dog. I have a possible therapy cat in the works. Stay tuned!
Pet owners tend to get more exercise than people without pets. If you have a dog, for example, you’re more likely to go out for walks. Exercise is good for managing depression.
Depression might make you want to avoid other people, but pets can open up your world.
Studies suggest pets help you get to know people, spark friendships, and build your support network. Connecting with like-minded people leads to wonderful friendships. Social connection is an antidote to depression.
Try these tips to get the most benefits to your mental health from owning a pet:
Pick the right pet
Before you choose one, decide how much time, energy, and money you have for it.
Dogs are good companions, but they’re relatively high-maintenance. If you have limited time or physical problems, an older or more independent animal may be a better fit.
Cats are typically lower-maintenance. A small animal like a hamster takes up little space and can still be cheerful.
Play with your animal. Pet and massage her. The more you do, the better you may feel. The act of giving can be very mindful and very therapeutic.
Be active with your pet. Take your dog for walks. Bring your pet along to meet up with others. The simple act of doing more can alleviate depressive symptoms.
If you don’t have a pet, get involved with other people’s animals. Offer to dog-sit for a friend. Play with a neighbor’s cat. This helps keep up your contact with other people too, which is an added benefit. A pet won’t make your symptoms vanish, but it may give you a healthy boost.
On a happy holiday note, I recently had my good friend, Sal, call me about a dog that had to be re-homed. She was about 20 months old, very large, and very sweet. I was told she was a Siberian Husky/Great Pyrenees mix, and her name was Naomi. In her present home, she was receiving the care that she required, but unfortunately not the love that she deserved. We were actively searching for a solution. This same man who had been actively searching for a forever home for Naomi called me today with GREAT news. His cousin had recently lost his beloved dog The man was devastated, and lost, without his best friend. Long story short, he met Naomi, and she was adopted by this man and his wife, where she will receive loads of love and attention. Merry Christmas, Naomi! May you live a long, healthy, and happy life. And thank you, Sal, for caring.
Wishing my loyal readers a joyous Christmas. And remember to reach out to those who are alone during the holiday season, and throughout the year.
Resource: Kara Mayer Robinson/WebMD
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org