Let’s talk about a more light-hearted (and cuddly) way to reduce stress and bring balance to your life. Pet Therapy!
I am a huge animal lover and truly believe in Pet Therapy. Pets have been shown to have numerous positive health effects. They help lower stress levels, promote longevity and can increase your quality of life.
Studies also show that children who grow up in households with pets have fewer allergies and fewer breathing issues. Pets can lower stress and blood pressure.
I had cats and a dog growing up, which was great. But when I to college and then out in the real world, I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of being a pet owner.
Disclaimer: I went to college a few years ahead of the shift where pets were welcomed on college campus’ for midterms and finals. I am SO sad I missed out on that. I mean, with the stress of nursing school, I could have totally used a puppy study break.
After college, my schedule was so sporadic and unreliable that I couldn’t provide for a pet in the way I thought I should. Only after I got into grad school, and spent my free-time isolated, with my nose in a textbook, did I circle back to wanting a furry companion.
Easing into Pet Therapy:
If I had a trying day during clinical, I would watch cute pet videos on my break or try to find funny pet memes when I got home. Those adorable furry faces provided the ‘feel good’ dopamine surge lifted my mood and make me feel better.
On the weekends, as a reward for finishing my papers and studying, I started going to the local animal shelter. I would play with the kitties, walk the dogs, and just spend time visiting with the animals.
They seemed genuinely happy to go outside and play, and I was glad to take a break from the endless studying. It was a great way to de-stress and take my mind off whatever was bothering me.
After spending almost a year visiting the animal shelter, and a few pleading discussions with my roommates, I decided to adopt a furry friend. I adopted an adorable Tuxedo-wearing kitty named Morrison. This picture is from his first week at home, taking in the view.
Did adopting a pet magically change my life? Not right away, but it definitely reduced my stress level and helped me keep things in perspective.
During grad school, I would come home from clinical, filled with all sorts of thoughts and emotions. Most of them were negative. When you’re leaning there’s more emphasis on what you do wrong that correctly. More often than I care to recall, I had challenging days.
I tried my best to keep it together but I ended up discouraged and feeling defeated by the end of the day. BTW: Any of these emotions are completely normal during Nursing or Anesthesia school. If anyone tells you otherwise, I’d be skeptical.
But, no matter what kind of day I had, here was this little fur-ball so excited to see me walk through the door! He didn’t care if I missed my intubation, or if I had a slow wake up, or whatever else it was I “needed to improve on” that day. He was just happy I was home.
I got into the habit of ‘decompressing’ my day and talking it through (out loud), while we played. He chased the feathers on his favorite toy while I recounted what I learned and how I planned to improve the next day. He was a ready listener and always seemed to agree.
No, I am not crazy nor did I expect him to actually answer me, but getting those feelings out and openly vocalizing my frustrations (in the safety of my apartment) did wonders for my mental health.
I was never very diligent about journaling during school, but this verbal venting/dialogue was close enough and it did the trick. It also helped me relax and re-set before diving back into care plans and patient research to prepare for the next day at the hospital.
Benefits of a furry friend:
Adopting a pet also had benefits that extended into my personal life. My roommates no longer dreaded coming home to find me upset and ready to vent.
My significant also loved that I no longer just complained or recounted every frustration when we saw each other. These are small changes, but all parties were immensely grateful for the shift in my interactions.
My furry sidekick helped ensure I took needed study breaks. Sometimes he would lie directly on my textbook or bring a toy to my feet and start meowing, ready to play. He reminded me to take mental breaks. Plus, ensuring I was meeting his kitty needs helped me remember to take care of myself too.
As life has moved forward and those stresses were replaced by new ones. I am happy to say, Morrison continues to be a source of joy and stress relief. He also continues to be a very good listener, nearly 10 years later!
I highly encourage you to look into pet therapy, or volunteering at an animal shelter if it’s something that speaks to you. Pets of any type can be therapeutic and have so many benefits.
There are bunnies, horses, ducks, and even peacocks listed at ‘therapy animals’. Pets are a lot of work, and need time and attention but is so worth it! They enrich our lives immensely and give so much to their humans!
What are your thoughts about pets and mental health? I’d love to hear how pets have impacted your life and well-being!
PS: If you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and don’t think you have the energy for a pet, check out this short video! It’ll inspire you to take action and give you a plan to take back your energy, health, and wellness.