Mental Health Mondays are our way of breaking the stigma, spreading awareness and sharing stories of those who are battling with their mental health. Read more from this series here.
If you’re anything like me, you probably browse through mental health listicles every now and then. On bad days, I find that physically googling “what to do when you’re having a bad day” and then reading through the action items gives me something new to focus on.
One thing that typically appears on these types of lists is pets. Sometimes people recommend playing with animals at a shelter or cuddling with your pets at home. Other times people suggest going on a walk with a dog or watching funny cat videos on your phone.
During quarantine, pets helped a lot of us get through such a difficult time. Studies have shown that companionship pets can improve people’s mental health by spreading joy, lowering stress and anxiety, and managing loneliness and depression.
Depending on the type of animal you have—for example, dogs or leash-compliant cats or maybe even overzealous lizards—pets can also increase people’s opportunities to exercise, get outside, socialize, and meet new people. In turn, this can help decrease our blood pressure and maintain our cholesterol and triglyceride levels, boosting our mood and energy.
But this doesn’t mean everyone looking to improve their mental health should adopt a pet.
I love animals. Growing up, my family had dogs, cats, frogs, a guinea pig, lots of fish, and we probably unintentionally fed a few neighborhood raccoons as well. While I’m no Bindi Irwin, animals have always been a huge part of my life.
As an adult, I can’t imagine not having pets. In fact, one of my biggest life goals is to adopt a dog. While my backyard-less apartment and I are not quite dog ready yet, I still wanted to expand my fur family in 2021. This led me to spend way too much time scrolling through shelter and rescue websites.
Finally, I found Willie, a fluffy orange kitten looking for a home that would embrace his shyness. As a homebody and an introvert, I thought me and my cat Nona would make an excellent home for this little guy.
I would describe myself as an experienced pet owner. However, I’ll be the first to admit that this made me a little too cocky. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows animals are a huge undertaking. Like most advice given to us after we’ve already made up our mind, I listened to those around me remind me of this responsibility with one ear—while my other ear listened for email alerts from Willie’s foster mom.
When I finally brought Willie home, I was excited and expecting a smooth transition from taking care of one cat to two. But the first couple of weeks with Willie were not as easy, breezy, or beautiful as I thought they were going to be.
I had so much anxiety, and I hardly slept. I underestimated how long the transition period would be for Willie’s adjustment. In addition, introducing new pets to your current pets always comes with extra challenges, which only increased my anxiety.
I felt like a new parent rather than an experienced pet owner. I mean, kittens are kind of like human babies; they have lots of needs and will probably keep you up at night when you really need to be sleeping.
All this to say, adopting a pet might not be what’s best for your mental health. Pets are a lot of work and require a lot of care. Sometimes adding another item to your to-do list is more stressful and exhausting than you think it will be. And low maintenance pets still require maintenance.
If that maintenance sounds like too much on top of everything else you have to do, then adopting a pet won’t improve your mental health. And that’s perfectly okay. While some people benefit from pets, some people do not.
I’m not trying to say don’t adopt a pet. I’m just saying make sure you’re well-informed, ready, and equipped for any animal you’re bringing into your life. Do your research, adopt (don’t shop!), and be ready to love the heck out of your pet because they deserve it.
If you’re wondering if now is a good time to start your fur family, maybe go visit with your friends’ pets first. You’ll get all the perks with none of the responsibility.
While I have no regrets about adopting Willie, I wish I had been more mentally prepared. Maybe that could have minimized the nights we both spent crying at 3 am.
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