When I’m feeling down and weary and I feel like nothing is going to work out, my dog comes to my rescue. She cuddles with me and then motivates me to get outside for a walk or some play time. But the best thing is that my puppy always gets me to smile, no matter how miserable or stressed I feel.

I’m not alone in this. It turns out that all pets can help your mind, body, and spirit. Here are a dozen reasons why.

How Getting A Puppy Has Impacted My Mental Health

1. They get you outside

Sun and fresh air elevate your mood and the sun gives you an extra dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D exposure helps fight physical and mental conditions, including depression, cancer, obesity, and heart attacks.

Also, when you go outside with your pet, you are engaging with nature. Try taking a moment to listen to the trees blowing in the breeze, feel the wind rushing past, and the sun upon your face. The sounds and feeling of nature can be incredibly calming.

2. They get you moving

Walking your dog and engaging in outdoor activities gives you a natural energy boost and allows you to let off steam. It also makes you more physically fit, strengthening your muscles and bones, which helps your self-esteem as well as your body.

Studies have shown that animals owners have lower blood pressure, as well as lower cholesterol, which may be in part attributed to the more active lifestyle that pets promote. Pet owners also have better circulation and a lower risk of experiencing major cardiac issues. And when your body is stronger, you are less susceptible to mental health issues.

How Getting A Puppy Has Impacted My Mental Health

3. They build your immune system

This one may sound counterintuitive, but children who grow up in homes with furry friends are actually less likely to develop common allergies.

Studies have shown that children who were exposed to two or more dogs and cats as babies were less than half as likely to develop allergies, including dust, grass, and pet allergies. They were also at a lower risk for asthma. Allergies can cause people to become lethargic and suffer from insomnia, which can make them more vulnerable to mental health issues, such as depression.

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4. Pets reduce stress

Rhythmic petting or grooming can be comforting to your dog or cat, and you. Concentrate on the texture of their soft fur, the warmth they radiate, and the deepness of their breathing. When you connect with your pet, oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief, is released, helping to reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels.

5. They both distract you and keep you present

When you are present and engaged with your pet, it takes your thoughts off the issues that are plaguing you. When you are fully in the moment, you are not worrying about the past or the future. It’s just you and your pet. Another way to keep distracted and present with your furry friend is to take photos or videos of his or her cute antics.

How Getting A Puppy Has Impacted My Mental Health

6. They lessen loneliness

If you don’t like to be left alone, pets are the best companions. Often a pet is very intuitive and will seek you out when you’re feeling down, refusing to allow you to remain alone. Just make sure you can fully care for and love a pet before you take her home. The worst thing you can do is to use a pet to fill a temporary void and then push them aside. A dog or a cat is a long-term commitment, and it’s not always easy. But if you are up to it, they can provide so much love through the good times and the bad.

7. They’re great listeners

You can talk to your pet about anything – your day, your hopes, your dreams. You can practice a presentation with them, cry about a breakup or utter truths that you may be afraid to actually share with someone else.

How Getting A Puppy Has Impacted My Mental Health

8. They love you unconditionally

Seeing their enthusiasm when you walk in the door can lift your mood instantly. Tail wagging, tongue hanging out of their mouth making it look like they’re smiling, the way their ears perk up. Their grunts or purrs. Your pet doesn’t care if you screwed something up at work.

They love you for being you, whatever that means on any given day. They are just happy to see you. They want to be around you, to love you, and be loved by you.

9. They can make you feel less isolated

Dog parks allow for more opportunities for socialization for both your dog and you. Your dog makes friends pretty easily and will help to break the ice so you can connect with new people. Your little cutie can be an instant conversation starter and a great way to get to know people in your neighborhood.

How Getting A Puppy Has Impacted My Mental Health

10. They can give you a purpose

Having a pet to care for can give you a feeling of purpose. This can be crucial when you are feeling really down and overwhelmed by negative thoughts. By caring for your pet you are focusing on someone other than yourself and your life. Your good deeds and your pets positive response will give you a feeling of instant gratification.

11. They make you smile

When my puppy, Lola, does cute things like roll on her back or puts a paw up on my arm, it makes me smile every time. This, in turn, triggers neurotransmitters to fire. These pet-time smiles can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, which are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness.

How Getting A Puppy Has Impacted My Mental Health

12. Playing is fun

With the daily grind of life, sometimes we forget to have fun. So go ahead. Play wrestle, play catch, dance together or just run around and act silly. Your dog will love you for it.

So this is your permission to go and have some fun with your furry friend because you will both benefit from the pleasurable time together.

And if you don’t have a pet or can’t get one right now, you can volunteer at a shelter. There are many animals that can still benefit from your love, and you will feel the benefits too.