Updated: Nov 4, 2020
When thinking of creative ways to increase your happiness and build the best version of yourself, using animals as a mood booster is often forgotten about and overlooked.
Whether you are dealing with grief, working to manage anxiety or deal with depression, animals can have a massively positive impact on your life!
The healing power and restorative energy of animals have been well documented, studied and scientifically proven.
In a study published in Psychology Today, interactions between humans and dogs have been shown to release the powerful “feel good” brain chemical ‘oxytocin’ in both humans and dogs!
Brain chemicals like these are major components in feelings of happiness, satisfaction, well-being, and that delicious comforting feeling we all crave…feelings of LOVE! It’s no surprise animals have been used as therapy tools for generations!
If you are looking for a solution to your current mental state, or are looking to ease your anxious mind, continue reading about the healing effects animals can have on you!
Can Animals And Humans Heal Each Other?
Yes! While this answer may come as no surprise to those who have owned a pet, the profoundly positive effects animals can have on improving human emotion is scientifically proven.
Past studies have shown that petting one’s own dog can reduce blood pressure, release oxytocin in the body (“the love chemical”) and even help heart attack patients live longer!
A dog’s healing power seems to be limitless, with the entire spectrum of benefits for humans not yet fully documented.
Because of the amazing results produced from animal/human interactions, it may come as no surprise that more and more often animals are being utilized in therapeutic settings.
The healing properties of animals are not exclusive to common house pets. Almost every animal has some form of benefit when used in combination with human interaction.
In major scientific studies, numerous animals like horses, birds and goats all proved to have profound impacts on the well-being and positivity of humans. Equines are often used in post-traumatic stress cases to increase emotional well-being and decrease anxiety.
In Compton, California a group known as the ‘Compton Jr Posse’ helps unprivileged youth stay off the street and out of gangs by pairing them with horses. The program has helped keep 1,500 kids off the streets to date, all by utilizing the healing power of horses and animals!
The Emotional Healing Powers of Animals
As every pet lover knows, animals like dogs, cats and more have impacts on our emotional states during our interactions with them.
But what are the actual effects animals have on the emotional state of their owners?
Numerous studies have shown that not only do brief interactions with animals increase the ‘bonding chemical’ oxytocin and the ‘happy chemical’ dopamine, but they also reduce the occurrence of cortisol ‘the stress hormone,’ throughout the human body!
This chemical combination is the exact formula that creates joy, peace and contentment.
These benefits have been known to medical professionals for decades now, with therapy dogs and animals being used in children's hospitals to offer comfort and emotional healing to those suffering from a range of harmful conditions.
Healing happens more quickly when the body is in a state of happiness, focusing on things that feel good. Children and adults tend to take the focus off of the illness for the time they are interacting with the animals, which allows the body to heal more quickly.
Can Dogs Help With Grief?: Using Animals to Heal Our Hearts
For those who have just undergone a serious traumatic incident in life, such as the loss of a loved one, the end of a marriage or relationship or are battling depression, the comfort and companionship of a dog, cat, bird or horse can have a huge impact on their emotional state.
Suffering from grief, no matter what the cause, is always an extremely tough burden to bear. The unconditional affection and constant companionship of an animal should be taken into consideration as an invaluable gateway to healing during a difficult or traumatic time in life.
Animals who help humans emotionally can be rescued (which is highly recommended) to aid in the process of healing and feeling happy in everyday life. Rescue animals need love as much as humans do and will show loyalty and commitment to an owner who is willing to invest their hearts into the animal.
It becomes a beautiful, unbreakable bond that is rarely found between humans. If you are able to have your own animal and are available to care for it in a way an animal needs, then you may want to consider heading to a shelter to rescue a sweet animal as one of the ways to get through the loss of a loved one.
If you are suffering and looking for the best ways to deal with grief, consider getting a new pet if you can care for it properly, or go volunteer at an animal rescue! They are always needing volunteers.
Do I Need A Therapy Animal or Emotional Support Animal?
Utilizing a therapy animal or emotional support is a form of treatment known as Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), which pairs animals and humans together to enhance the emotional state, well-being and mental outlook for both the human and the animal!
Therapy animals are not just for those who suffer from some form of physical disability. For those affected by a range of mental or emotional ailments, like anxiety, depression, ADHD/ADD, and much more, therapy animals can help stabilize your emotions and regulate the highs and lows that come with these disorders.
For those seeking compassion or companionship from a service animal without requiring any special training for their pet, emotional support animals are the best choice.
Emotional support animals don’t require any specialized training to receive their certification, unlike therapy animals or service dogs.
However, emotional support animals will not have the same access to public places like service animals, since they are not trained to handle these types of situations.
Therapy animals are typically highly trained dogs or other animals, which work in difficult places like hospitals, family courts and more. These animals undergo specialized training to offer support to numerous humans and children during high-stress times. Therapy animals are typically not owned by a single person or family.
What Kind of Animal is Right For You?
Choosing the right therapeutic or emotional support animals can be a tough choice!
For many, the choice between dogs, cats or other emotionally supportive animals is easy, as the type of pets we grow up with as children often determines what kind of animals we are more likely to get later in life.
However, for those of us who have never owned pets, this choice is extremely tough and can have vast implications for the next few decades! Be wise and do your research before making an impulse purchase or rescue. Animals require a lot of care. The care you provide can be therapeutic to your daily life, just make sure you have the appropriate amount of time for them.
If you like big, loving animals who love to hug and snuggle up in bed, then a dog probably is a great fit for you.
If you are less fond of mess and like things clean and neat, with an animal who can offer affection but also be more self-sustaining when you aren’t available, a cat may be the right avenue for you.
But the list doesn’t end there! There are dozens of options to choose from when selecting the perfect companion animal for you. Search online and discover what animal is perfect for your home and emotional situation today and remember, if you can’t have one for yourself at this point in time, there are rescues and companies that need extra help.
Volunteering can be exactly what you need to feel better right now. If the desire is there, then go find an animal to love on. Watch how quickly your life will improve. Feeling better and better every day is the goal, and a special animal connection can get you there!
Have you ever utilized a companion animal to get through a tough time in life? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author:
Dilyse Diaz is a marriage and family therapist in Santa Clarita, California. She runs a private practice and specializes in anxiety counseling, depression and grief counseling, children's therapy, couples counseling and family therapy. She offers her services in person in Valencia, California or via digital counseling sessions. Visit her About page to learn more!