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Self-care – Do you sleep with your pet?

Elevating Mental Health with a Pet

By Curtis Thill, M.D.

 

Close to 70% of homes have a pet, ranging from dogs and cats to fish. Many people report that sleeping with a cat or a dog is commonplace. Is that good for health and self-care?

Research shows a broad range of potential benefits when people positively interact with pets. The unconditional love shown by a dog or another pet is increasingly linked with decreased stress, improved emotional and social skills, and even heart health.

In fact, as the National Institutes of Health reports, a positive experience with animals can decrease both levels of cortisol (a hormone that can complicate stress reactions) and blood pressure. Many people appreciate a loyal companion, and studies show that a pet can reduce feelings of loneliness and increase feelings of support, with the net result of an overall boost to your mood.

So under the right conditions, having and taking care of a pet can be an important part of self-care, taking steps to elevate your health.

The option of having a pet is one dimension of self-care. As I advise my patients, taking care of ourselves is important for both short- and long-term health, and that includes mental health.

 

Boosting mental and emotional health

Achieving and sustaining positive mental and emotional health represents an important pillar of personal self-care. For example, smartphones provide many important services that help make our lives productive, but too much screen time and “doom-scrolling” can result in imbalance.

Creating opportunities for a mental and emotional reset can provide many benefits. Practicing practical mindfulness and stretching and breathing exercises can refresh and invigorate our emotional outlook. If you’re wondering what that might look like, check out the SICHC YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/@sichc_healthcare/videos) for short videos that can be used by adults and children alike.

Negative self-talk also is a common issue that can lower our quality of life and inadvertently heighten stress. By simply recognizing these thoughts and actively working to replace them with positive affirming thoughts of appreciation and self-worth can have a long-lasting positive effect. Thinking positively is also linked with the production and release of neuropeptides that can relieve symptoms of stress.

Simply making an effort to stay in contact with important people in your life can improve quality of life and be a vital part of personal self-care. Finding things that make one laugh is sometimes inadvertently neglected.

In fact, the Mayo Clinic recognizes the high value of laughter on many levels. A good and hearty laugh increases breathing in oxygen-rich air, which positively stimulates critical organs and muscles. Research found that simple smiling and laughter can actually improve the response of your immune system over time. So find something funny and enjoy a good laugh!

On the serious side, sometimes life presents us with challenges that can dampen the enjoyment of life and threaten to overwhelm us. If you find yourself in such a place, seeking professional help is a great and approved way to deal with it. Don’t let any old stigmas block your way here.

 

Actively check your boxes of physical health 

All self-care personal initiatives should include both light (and regular) exercise and eating nutritional food each day. Doing those two things will likely produce elevated health — and help keep you out of the doctor’s office.

And what about sleeping with your pet? There are pros and cons, often depending on personal preference. Having a purring cat can actually stimulate the production of the feel-good hormone oxytocin and improve sleep quality. Pets also like their personal life cycles, which include getting up in the morning, which they will share with you, whether you want to get up or not. So if it works for you (and it doesn’t disrupt your sleep), feel free to share your bed with your favorite pet.

The main point? Take the time to take care of yourself – and reap the benefits!


 

A board-certified family physician, Dr. Curtis Thill has actively practiced medicine in southern Indiana for more than 30 years. Read more about him at https://sichc.org/providers/

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