Monthly Column: Support for Stress, by Cheryl Patterson
Many of us have heard about some of the common ways of reducing stress such as through a balanced diet, exercise, leisurely activities and having a good support system. However, having pets isn’t the typical thing that comes to mind in relation to stress.
Many people don’t understand the concept of pets as “family,” let alone impacting their stress levels. And for those of us with pets, it may be hard to imagine that it reduces stress, given the responsibilities involved. But the rewards truly outweigh the sacrifices, and pets are widely recommended as antidotes to what ails us – at home and in the larger scheme of things.
The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) believes the impact of pets to our health can reduce health care costs and spare the lives of both the elderly and the pets.
According to Al Hickey, Western Regional Director of the HSC, they feel so strongly about the benefits of having a pet that they’ve issued a report to the government, proposing a tax credit to help the elderly afford pets, as a preventative measure to reduce health care costs over the long-term.
According to HSC Executive Director, Michael O’Sullivan, owning a dog or cat produced a savings of approximately $1.82 billion (CAD) in health care costs in Australia in 1994-95.
Sullivan believes that a study in Canada would lead to similar results, and it is the direction the organization is taking, believing that both seniors and animals benefit from government support in this area. And others are benefiting also.
Therapeutic benefits of pet companionship are monumental. In 1975, when a patient brought an injured sparrow into a hospital caring for severely depressed and withdrawn patients, simple nurturing of the bird created improvements in well-being and communicativeness.
Fast-forward, and what is known today as the Oakwood Forensic Center, runs an animal-assisted therapy program (AAT). This therapy is so profound that clients on this ward only require half the medications that clients on other wards do. AAT is a direction many other facilities are trying to take, with the impact of animals being so profound.
AAT has been shown to help with shyness, memory, empathy, communication, depression and moods, socializing and general well-being. Animal companionship has helped people profoundly.
According to the Douglas Mental Health University, animals also provide benefits to those with Alzheimer’s disease. They indicate that the presence and emotional stimulation animals provide captures the patient’s attention and helps them maintain contact with reality, puts them in a calming state of mind (versus the tendency to react aggressively), and helps them remember past experiences, often associated with animals.
And simply being a pet owner can be just as benefiting. Studies have found a relationship between owning a pet and benefits, such as:
- Increased physical activity
- Lower blood pressure
- Unconditional love
- A comforting presence
- A sense of joy and interest in life
- Promotes social interaction
Whether you have a limited support system and need a friend or a little comfort, or have a couple of pounds to lose, the benefits of being around animals are as limitless as the love they provide.