Feeling stressed out? Owning a Pet May Help

December 13, 2022

Summary: It is no secret that owning a pet can be good for mental well-being. It can be even more beneficial in times of social isolation. Pets help people stay active and provide company, thus preventing loneliness. However, the new study found that much depends on the kind of attachment. People who give more importance to pets than humans are less likely to benefit from owning a pet, like those who do not develop an emotional bond with pets.

These research outcomes can prove to be a game-changer in mental conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder treatment.

Pet can help reduce stress and is not just an opinion or observation. A new study by Kingston University confirms that pets could be one of the excellent ways of stress relief. The study was done in the context of increased acute stress disorder symptoms caused by social isolation during covid-19. It appears that pets may prevent that feeling of loneliness.

In the last few decades, families have become much smaller. As a result, many people are living alone. Thus, most social interaction occurs in offices or in the evenings when they meet their friends. However, lots have changed because of covid-19 due to working from home and social isolation. As a result, many people became too isolated and lonely, resulting in mental health issues along with acute stress disorder symptoms.

A new study shows that one of the effective ways of overcoming this issue is pet ownership. Human and pet interaction can be really good for mental well-being. The study found that people develop a strong emotional bond with pets, which raises their resilience.

The new study was published in the journal Anthrozoös. It surveyed more than 700 pet owners from the UK and around the world. The study was done firstly in May 2020, that is, in the early days of social isolation due to covid-19, and then again in September 2021.

The study found that pet owners felt much better emotionally than those who did not own pets. There were many reasons for a lower stress level in pet owners. Those with pets had someone to play with. They had to take their pet out for a walk, which helped them stay active. Furthermore, owning a pet means that someone is always giving company. The emotional bond between the two also helps improve resilience. Thus, pet owners reported being happier and more satisfied with life.

Of course, most of these things have been known for a long time. However, the research found that the benefits of owning a pet depend on the type of emotional relationship one has with the pet. Those who are in a healthy attachment with their pets are more likely to benefit. However, unhealthy attachment is not going to help. For example, some may find taking care of their pets a source of chronic stress disorder. Hence, it is not just about owning a pet. It is more about a kind of emotional attachment that one develops.

As the researchers say that everyone knows that pets are good for mental health. However, they wanted to understand the role of individual characteristics that play a role in how much one would benefit from pet ownership. Of course, owning a pet is not a magic pill and is not a solution for all mental health issues. For example, certain people fail to develop emotional bonding with their pets; for them, owning a pet may instead become a source of chronic stress disorder.

It means that though owning a pet is a good idea, only those who have specific characteristics will benefit from pets. Such people have the ability to form a bonding with their pets. Thus, they develop a mutually beneficial relationship with pets. In this case, both the pet and owner benefit.

There were some other interesting findings from the study. Unhealthy attachment to pets is not just about emotional bonding. Individuals who treat pets more important than people are less likely to be happy. Thus, having a strong emotional bond with pets is not enough. What matters is the kind of attachment with pets. Those who treat pets like humans may, on the contrary, fail to gain any benefit, and they are more likely to be stressed.

So, what researchers are saying is that just having a pet is not enough to get stress relief. Equally vital is to have a healthy attachment. We should stop over-simplifying this attachment, and things are more complex.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA