Anyone who has a pet knows that they're not just a pet-- they're a loved member of the family. Some of us even spoil our pets like children with too many toys, treats & tummy-rubs. Even though we can't communicate with them, we have an unspoken bond fueled by trust, loyalty and love.
As it turns out, "man's-best-friend" might also help us to mourn. They aren't going to extinguish your grief or sorrow-- it sounds cliche, but only time will really heal and help you to move forward from loss-- but these small benefits might help to decrease some of the negative physical, emotional or mental impacts of loss.
1. Dogs = Exercise
When you adopt a dog, you're not just opening your heart for puppy kisses & snuggles-- you're also signing up for the huge responsibility of feeding & walking them. Menial tasks can seem daunting when you're mourning, but walking your dog promotes light-exercise that can boost your health.
As we talked about in this past blog post, exercising can help with grief in a few ways: Emotionally, it releases endorphins, thus boosting our mood. Mentally, the act of exercising can provide a sense of control & focus, which can provide psychological benefits to someone who's coping with loss. Physically, aerobic exercise such as walking can increase blood flow to the brain, helping to minimize memory issues such as "Widow's Fog".
Going to the gym or intentionally exercising may seem like more of a chore than simply walking your dog on a warm, sunny day. A nice walk is far more enjoyable and doesn't always feel like work. Plus, getting out of the house to walk your pup can provide additional mental health benefits due to the higher levels of oxygen and vitamin D intake.
Did you know that taking a breath of fresh air can increase immunity & help to boost serotonin levels? This, in turn, can boost your mood and help to counteract some of the emotional impacts of loss.
2. Routines & Regular Schedules
Having a cat or dog (or really any kind of pet) means that you have a set routine. Your furry friend probably has a feeding and exercising schedule, and they'll make sure you stick to it!
If your pets are anything like mine-- they're not afraid to let you know when it's time to wake up. Whether that means they jump on the bed & lick your face, scratch at the bedroom door or howl from their kennel-- they make it known that they're ready for their morning walk or breakfast. Personally, my cats like to gently bat my face with their paws or stand on my chest until I wake up to feed them.
Even though their schedules might seem inconvenient, this routine can have tremendous psychological benefits. It's suggested that routines can help with depression, as they encourage a sense or purpose and promote a natural cycle for your bodily functions. Sleep cycles are especially important for improved mental health; a regular daytime routine may even decrease the risk of emotional difficulties, such as depression and anxiety.
3. Reminding You: You're Not Alone
Having a pet in the house can also remind you of one important thing: You're not alone. Certain studies suggest that social isolation and loneliness are linked depression. Someone who is dealing with a close personal loss is already at a higher risk for mental illnesses-- and sleep problems can increase the risk.
Having someone in the house with you, even if they're a pet, can make you feel less isolated. Even further, knowing that your pets depend on you might make it a little bit easier to get through the day.
If you have a dog, chances are that you also bump into other dog-owners on your morning or evening walks. Getting a chance to talk to other people can really improve your mood & decrease feelings of social isolation. This could also be a good place to meet others in the neighborhood who have at least one thing in common-- a love for animals.
4. Cute, Cuddly & Comforting
Petting your pup doesn't just feel good to them-- this might actually help to decrease some of the emotional impacts of grief. Your furry friend's coat is soft & warm, which can be comforting to the human touch. As this article puts it:
"Touch helps increase oxytocin levels and reduces cortisol, the infamous stress-related hormone".
Your dog also senses your mood & understands when you're feeling down. This is especially true for someone who is grieving a loss-- your dog or cat knows that you're upset, and will likely give you extra attention and love when you need it. While this can't replace the love of our dearly departed, it can help us to feel supported and cared for.
Let us know how your pets have helped you to grieve.