The COVID-19 pandemic has been damaging in more ways than one. The physical effects of the virus are obviously what has caused us to quarantine, social distance, and wear masks for over a year.
But, the long-term mental health effects may cause additional damage for years to come. COVID-related stress has already been linked to an increase in substance abuse. It’s also impacted people with existing mental health issues, as well as those in isolation who don’t do well with loneliness.
To combat that loneliness, many people took to their local pet adoption centres throughout the pandemic. In some parts of the country, shelters were completely cleaned out. Time Magazine even named rescue animals their “Pet of the Year” in 2020.
Pets play an important role in mental health, especially during times of distress. Some people finally had time to train a rambunctious puppy they always wanted. Others just needed the support and love of a constant companion.
So, how have pets helped with mental health struggles during COVID-19, and can you benefit from adopting one?
An Easy Companionship
Having a strong relationship with a pet is easy. If you find that you have difficult relationships with people, a pet can give you the companionship you need with a totally different dynamic attached. That’s only the beginning of where the mental health benefits begin.
Combatting loneliness, especially during COVID, has been difficult. Unfortunately, there are serious mental (and physical) health risks of isolation, including:
- Premature mortality
- Weakened immune system
- Cognitive decline
- Higher stress levels
A pet’s presence can help significantly. Even petting an animal can instantly lower your stress levels and help you to feel connected.
As you start to develop a relationship with your pet, they can boost your mental health in multiple ways. First, they provide you with a purpose. Having something to take care of can give you a sense of belonging, and something to look forward to each day.
They also encourage you to create a daily schedule based on their needs. That might include waking up at the same time each day, going out for a walk, or going to the park in the afternoon. Maintaining a schedule is good for your mental health and can reduce stress, and being more active and getting outside with your pet are both instant mood-boosters.
Even those quiet evenings at home with your pet can make you feel much better than being alone. Having a companion – even a furry one – allows you to escape feelings of isolation and improve your mental health as a result.
Are You Ready for a Pet?
With so many benefits, it might be tempting to head to your local shelter now. But, it’s important to make sure you’re 100% ready for a pet in your life. That starts with making sure wherever you live is conducive to a pet’s needs. Check with territorial, state, and local laws about pet control and licensing. If you live in an apartment, familiarise yourself with its pet policy.
Additionally, you have to be sure you’re ready for the personal responsibility of owning a pet. Is your home pet-proofed? Do you have all of the necessary supplies? Are you willing to dedicate time and effort to training and giving your pet attention?
It’s also important to consider the financial aspect of pet ownership. It’s estimated that the first year of raising a small dog costs about $2674 US, or $3395.93 AUD. That includes food, supplies, and vet bills. You may be able to offset certain medical costs with pet insurance. But, understand that raising an animal isn’t always cheap.
If you think you’re ready for the responsibility, don’t hesitate to start the adoption process. We’re still living in uncertain times. If you find that you’re struggling with your mental health or you’re feeling lonely, a pet can help.
About the Author
Bio: Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S.
She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to health and wellness, including mental health awareness and addiction education.
You can follow Jori and learn more about her on Twitter and LinkedIn.