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 have even shown that children who grow up in households with pets have fewer allergies and breathing issues and pets can lower stress hormones and blood pressure.
I had pets growing up, but when I went off to college and then got out into the real world, I wasn’t sure I was ready for the responsibility of being a pet owner.
(I also have to admit, I was just a few years ahead of the shift where pets were welcomed on college campus’ for mid-terms and finals, etc. I am very 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 really 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 usually provided the ‘feel good’ images that helped lift my mood and make me feel better.
On the weekends, as a reward for finishing all 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 all the coursework and exams.
After spending almost a year visiting the animal shelter, and initiating more than a few pleading discussions with my roommates, I decided to adopt a furry companion. I adopted an adorable Tuxedo-wearing kitty named Morrison. This picture is from his first week at home, taking in the view.
Pet Ownership: 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. More often than I care to recall, I had challenging days. I tried my best to keep it together but often I ended up discouraged or feeling defeated by the end of the day. (Any of these emotions are completely normal during both Nursing and Anesthesia school. If anyone tells you otherwise, I’d be skeptical).
Yet, 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 always seemed to agree.
No, I am not crazy and I didn’t expect him to answer me, but just getting those feelings out there and openly vocalizing my frustrations (in the confines 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 really 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 my 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 other 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.
As life has moved forward and the stresses of yesterday were replaced by new ones today, I am happy to say that Morrison continues to be a source of joy and stress relief in my life. He continues to be a very good listener!
I highly encourage you to look into pet therapy, or volunteering at an animal shelter if that is something that speaks to your heart. Pets of any type can be therapeutic and have far-reaching 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, as they can enrich our lives immensely and give so much back 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!