Updated: Jun 24, 2020
One day, I was having a dialogue with my father who happens to be a doctor, about the many ways animals benefit us humans. Following this conversation, he made a revelation. The aquarium that I have been seeing in his clinic since I was kid has been there for a purpose. It served a reason. He told me that he kept the fish so that his patients would calm down seeing them. And there is actual evidence to that thought. There are many studies that show how the movements of fish help people with anxiety. And that, is just another example.
Children who grow up with dogs have higher mental capacities than children who do not. How is that possible, you may ask? Have you heard of games and apps that boost brain power? They work by challenging your brain and giving it an opportunity to work. The same way, rearing a pet comes with many challenges and opportunities like walking, feeding, grooming the dog and all things required for its care. All these activities require us to think, plan and use other mental functions. Now imagine your brain exercising all of these activities since you were a kid. These facts are scientifically proven and not just guesswork. But it took us a lot of time to get here, to understand the biology behind the human-animal bond.
The presence of the animal helps an individual in many ways. A dog, will provide for touch. Stroking a dog releases a hormone called "Oxyctocin" in both the dog and the person. This chemical has a myriad of benefits, like lowering of blood-pressure, bringing down the heart rate and combating stress. To make this more a bit personal, I would like to bring my experience. Being a part of a post-graduate program can be very stressful. While I was doing my masters I would go back from the university with a head heavy with thoughts and my body full of feelings, all resulting from impinging stress. But I had someone very special who would greet me as soon as I reached home no matter what, no exceptions. His name was Scarface, he had a little scar near his eye. This doggy would make me forget all my worries for a while and fill me with a sense of belonging and warmth. He made me feel welcome. This encounter would really streamline my mood.
Dogs and cats are also gifted with a very superior sense of smell. You might have witnessed this yourself or seen it in the movies, when a person is upset or crying, the pet runs to them and licks them or provides them some form of comfort. This is because they can smell our emotions. Not all animals may respond like this, but most do. I talk a lot about dogs because they are the most domesticated mammals and are one of the most common pets all over the world. They have been living with humans since time immemorial. You might have heard of communities where humans and Dolphins swim together or engage in other activities. Caring for a pet gives us a sense of accomplishment and there is no real constraint to the type of animal you can keep as a pet. Birds, Turtles, Llamas..the list is endless.
Pets play a vital role in shaping our general well-being but their role in aiding individuals with various mental health issues is also expanse. There are numerous success stories backed up by research where pets have helped individuals overcome Depression, Anxiety, Phobias, and almost all mental health conditions, such is their power. "Stress" is a state which predisposes us to many conditions including psychological illness. Like mentioned earlier, pets are wonderful stress-busters. To cite an example, some therapy dogs were stationed at various airports to help passengers overcome their distress by interacting the dogs and playing with them. The results were a lot of waggy tails and happy faces.
To come back to the title, "We Are Who We Live With" I would like to introduce you to a concept called "One Welfare". It means that everything on this planet is interconnected and our well-being is a result of harmonious collaboration between us, other beings and the environment. To recognise and spread this message, we can start by accepting animals into our society and look at them as beings that are more than their instincts. They experience complex emotions like us and hence they need love, too. And they give it back. Unconditionally.
So let animals heal you in your time of distress and all they will ask is for in return is your love.
Author: Dr. Md. Imad who is both a doctor and a psychologist! One his interests includes using pets to help people deal with their mental health concerns and we are glad to have him as our Psychologist Feature of the Month, bringing you stories of how your pets can help with your mental health too!P.S. He has also clicked the beautiful pictures in this article!