Straight From the Shrink

Jenna Behrens is a licensed professional counselor who has been practicing in the mental health field for seven years. She owns Behrens Psychotherapy Services, LLC which has four office locations around the Milwaukee area. She works with children, adolescents, families, and adults on a wide array of issues including depression, anxiety, ADHD, childhood behavioral disorders, adjustment disorders, stress and parenting.

Can Our Pets Help Our Mental Health?

 If you have pets that you love dearly, you probably already know the answer to this question... YES! I can speak from experience. We have 3 dogs and, even though at times they can be really annoying and a lot of work, they brighten our lives in many, many ways. 

If has been proven that pets, especially those that are highly interactive such as dogs and cats, can help decrease depression and anxiety. This happens for many reasons. Pets give us unconditional love. That's hard to find as adults. They love us no matter what. Even if we are having a bad day. You might even notice that your pet can sense when you're feeling sad or mad and try to cheer you up by giving you kisses or extra snuggles. They are a constant companion. Pets, especially dogs, also help cure boredom which can be a major cause of both depression and anxiety. If you're bored and you have a dog, you can take them to the dog park or play fetch. And double bonus- If you choose to take your dog to the dog park, this is a great way to meet other people with similar interests. 

Another reason why pets can help our mental health is by their own daily routine. This is especially useful for people who suffer from depression and who may otherwise choose to stay in bed all day. If you have a dog to feed and let out several times per day, staying in bed isn't an option. And if you have to walk your dog, even better, you're also getting outside and getting exercise which are 2 very important ingredients when battling depression and anxiety. 

It has also been found that the simple act of petting your dog can lower your heart rate which is often related to stress and that humans need contact with others and pets can satisfy this need. Having a pet sit next to you on the couch or even on your lap is extrememly comforting. 

As a therapist, I have recommended clients get a pet if they can especially if they don't have the social support of family or friends. I have even vouched for clients and helped them fight agains their landlords in keeping their pet as it is a benefit to their mental health. I know that I couldn't imagine my life without our dogs. Three may be a bit excessive, but I know that we will always have at least one in our lives. There's nothing better than coming home after a stressful day and snuggling on the couch with them. Currently they are still sleeping in bed (it's almost 11:00 am on a Sunday). I think I'll go join them! 

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