The Therapeutic Power of Animals
When you scroll through your favorite social media feeds, have you ever noticed the sheer number of memes, photos, and videos dedicated to the animal kingdom? And we’re not just talking dogs and cats. From alpacas and sea otters to turtles and every exotic bird imaginable, animals garner as many likes, hearts, and thumbs-up as A-list celebrities. Besides the obvious cuteness factor, there are a number of reasons why animals have such a magnetic draw for people of all ages.
The Connection Isn’t Accidental
For some, the simple act of spotting the first blue jays of fall, or deer grazing in the field, fills them with a sense of wonder and calm. For others, such as proud pet parents, they’re more than happy to share how their lives have been enriched with joy, unconditional love, and comfort.
Another group of decidedly hands-off animal lovers has emerged in the digital age, too. Those who find much-needed stress relief by watching the funny antics of other people’s pets during a hectic day at work, according to CNN Health.
Funny enough, all of these good feelings between humans and animals are no accident. There is a strong scientific connection between better mental health and animals, which is why pet therapy is so effective and widely used in a number of settings.
The Next Era of Therapy Animals
While using mental health support animals may seem like a recent phenomenon because of the current popularity of equine therapy, therapy dogs in schools, or goats accompanying yoga, it’s not. The integration of animals into medical and therapeutic settings actually dates back more than 150 years, according to Shots, NPR’s health news department.
One of the earliest studies to make the connection between pet ownership and better health outcomes was published in 1980. According to National Library of Medicine (NLM) findings, heart attack patients who were pet owners lived longer than those who weren’t.
Did you know the simple act of petting your dog has been proven to reduce blood pressure? That was an important aha! moment from a 1984 NLM study. More recent findings have expanded upon the discovery and attributed the reaction to a release of oxytocin and serotonin. These are two feel-good hormones that promote relaxation and improve your mood.
Not surprisingly, the storied bond between animals and humans played an essential role during the COVID-19 lockdown and beyond. Pet adoptions were at an all-time high for good reason. Along with reducing loneliness and providing emotional support while many began working from home for the first time, they were also a game changer for physical health, according to reporting by Scripps.org.
So how can adding a pet to your family improve your overall health and wellness? There are several surprising ways, including:
- Higher levels of good cholesterol
- Greater resistance to germs
- Reduced stress levels
- Improved heart health
- New opportunities for socialization
- A reduction of physical pain
- Ability to breathe easier during anxious moments
- Increased productivity during exercise
The Power of Pet Therapy
It’s no secret that animals have a magical way of breaking down barriers without saying a word. They can bring smiles and instant relief in the most difficult circumstances, which is probably why therapy animals have proven to be helpful for people struggling with a wide range of conditions, such as:
- Cancer treatment
- Heart disease
- Mental health disorders, including PTSD
- Addiction therapy
- Anxiety-inducing dental procedures
In addition to helping people feel better during difficult physical and mental health challenges, animal-assisted therapy has also been proven to help those who are supporting these people. According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, being there for a loved one through recovery isn’t always easy, which is why pet therapy can help ease their stress as well.
And unlike many remedies that require time and patience to reap the benefits, UCLA Health research indicated a mere 12 minutes spent in the company of a dog helped in the following ways:
- By diminishing the release of harmful hormones
- Lowering pressures that aided healthier lung and heart function
- Decreasing anxiety among hospitalized heart failure patients
- Improving overall mood by feeling loved, less tired, and more optimistic
Experience the Healing Power of Animals Firsthand
Are you or someone you love struggling with unresolved childhood trauma? Emotional or relationship issues? Grief? Loss? Addiction? Our caring community at Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows can help. Participants in our workshops will notice a wide variety of wildlife on our campus and will also have access to amenities like goat yoga and trail rides (subject to availability). With our holistic approach to healing, you’ll get a one-of-a-kind experience. Reach out today to learn more.