Pets bring much needed emotional support this International Day of Happiness

For many of us, stress and anxiety are a way of daily life but since the onset of COVID-19 and with-it lockdowns, social distancing, and a total change of our norms there has been a dramatic increase.  “The emotional effects of the pandemic will only be fully evident and understood in years to come, but what we do know right now is that many adults and children are struggling,” says Marycke Ackhurst, pet behaviour expert from Hill’s Pet Nutrition. 

The emotional support that dogs and cats provide can help adults and children to manage stress, anxiety, depression, ease loneliness, as well as encouraging physical activity and playing. Ackhurst says, “Our pets provide unconditional love and support, especially when we interact with them, and even though we should celebrate them every day, life sometimes just gets in the way. So, this International Day of Happiness celebrated on 20th March, why not recognise your furry friend and how they not only bring happiness to your home but also provide much needed emotional support.

Ackhurst gives some examples of how your pets can provide emotional support as well as how to celebrate International Day of Happiness with your pet that will benefit both of you:

  • Take your dog for a walk. Physical exercise releases endorphins – our happy hormone and Vitamin D, which we get from the sun, has been linked to helping combat depression.  On the flip side, the exercise is good for your dog too and they will love the quality time with you.   
  • Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the ‘cuddle chemical', helps increase feelings of trust, relaxation, and empathy, while reducing stress and anxiety. Spending time with your pet, playing and or cuddling with them will help your brain to start producing Oxytocin.
  • For those of us who are not doing in-person gatherings or are unable to be with our loved ones due to travel restrictions, why not schedule a virtual family picnic in the garden? If you are seeing one another, choose a dog-friendly park to meet for some much-needed human interaction. The open space is better from a COVID-safety perspective and your dogs can have a playdate too.  
  • For cats almost anything can be turned into a game, from chasing after a catnip-filled toy mouse, to simply tying a string to an empty toilet roll and pulling it along the floor for them to catch. 
  • Do your own family photoshoot, without the stress of a professional photographer. Get each family member to come up with a different concept, from a colour theme, funny faces, different poses and of course one with your furry family members too. Nominate someone as the photographer or set-up a tripod and just have fun. The more natural the photos are the better! 

In October 2020 The World Health Organisation released a study showing that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health is increasing. Finding ways to help yourself, family members and friends is important for us all during these difficult times. 

For more from Hill’s visit www.hillspet.co.za 

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