April is Stress Awareness Month, and perhaps not coincidentally, April 11 is also National Pet Day. After all, fur babies are notorious for helping to reduce stress, promote self-esteem, stave off loneliness, and provide physical activity — which also happen to go a long way in coping with the stress of living with a chronic disease. Plus, pets don’t pass judgement or shame you. Shannon S. refers to her three dogs as her “wellness team ready to pound the pavement when I’m feeling good — or snuggle in close during a high-pain day.”
How do your pets help you relieve stress or manage your chronic illness? We asked this very question to members of the CreakyJoints and the Global Health Living Foundation (GHLF) patient community — and we discovered that these loyal companions can provide love, entertainment, company, and motivation. And, of course, they’re great at making patients feel loved and needed.
If you don’t have a pet — or you just find caring for a pet too much to handle while managing your chronic illness — take heart. You can still reap some of the stress-reducing benefits by just taking a few minutes to watch videos of cute animals. In fact, one study showed that just 30 minutes after viewing a video of kittens, puppies, gorillas, and quakkas, participants experienced a drop in blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety.
Read on, and see if any of these responses resonate with you — or, at the very least, think about what will work for you to better manage stress.
Pets Calm Us
“Alphonse has been my buddy for years, particularly during the worst of my mental illness when I felt otherwise completely alone. Having him trotting up to the front door when I came home always gave me a sense of peace and knowing that I was with the one being who would never judge me would love me (as long as I remembered to fill his food bowl). Having him lie next to me as I pet his soft fur is always such a calming event.” — Courtney W.
“I have often called Rebecca Hope my therapy kitty. Today she is hanging out with my husband who is not feeling well. She is so precious.” — Cheryle N.
Pets Get Us Moving
“Bella brings me so much joy every day. We walk five miles a day, every day. It’s great for mental health and for my total knee replacement.” — Stephanie D.
“My 8-year-old greyhound gets me through the tough days by letting me wrap my arms around his neck and hold on, and by making me go for walks and move about, even slowly on the painful stiff days. He is so tolerant.” — AC L.
Pets Comfort Us
“Krystal is a 10-year-old miniature poodle re-homed to us three years ago. She is always in one of our laps and has filled our lives with joy. She has been a comfort through flares and through my husband’s cancers.” — Robin K.
“My dog and cat are my absolute world. They’ve kept me going on my darkest days when I didn’t think I wanted to keep going. I keep going because I know they need me. Emmy (dog) helps me get out of the house and walk and they both provide unlimited snuggles and seem to sense when I’m feeling down and/or in pain. I’d be lost without them.” — @settlingbones
“Bella snuggles me when she knows I don’t feel well. She is super silly and entertains me, especially when I’m in a crappy mood or hurting. Even better she lets me vent without saying anything.” — Suzanne M.
“I’ve task trained Charlie to help me get around when my vertigo and hemiplegic symptoms are at their worst, and she helps me maintain my independence. We’re working on a “pressure” command so that she’ll apply pressure to my chest when needed. This will help me regulate breath and focus on deep breathing. My cat provides more stress-related comfort because she’s so snuggly.” — Cannon T.
“My dogs help me have a reason to get up in the morning, they keep a smile on my face and both know when I’m feeling down. If I’m having a really bad day, they are very clingy and will cuddle with me more.” — @breathe.dont.panic
“My three cats are the best at accompanying me on difficult days.” — @istharfelina
Pets Sense Our Pain
“It’s been the best thing that’s happened since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She is company and unconditional Love. I entertain myself a lot with my Yorkie Laly, I even talk to her all day. As a blessing in my life, we are so connected that my difficult days are when she shows me the most love.” — @latina266.ds
“Indy is always by my side. On good days we walk and on bad days we nap together. I am beginning to believe that he knows I am going to have a flare-up before I do as he gets clingy and needs to be right next to me. I was diagnosed with RA December 2021, so we are figuring out our new life together.” — Sarah S.
“My two cats lay on top of me like a heating pad when I’m in pain.” — Kathie S.
Want to Get More Involved with Patient Advocacy?
The 50-State Network is the grassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, comprised of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more affordable and accessible to patients with chronic illness, learn more here.
Nittono H, et al. “The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus.” PLoS ONE. doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046362.