Today, April 22, is Earth Day. This annual observance was developed in 1970 to help foster stewardship of the natural world around us. 2015 marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day so here at Holistic Pain we want to celebrate by sharing information about the stress-fighters you already have at home: your pets and your plants.

As of 2012, it was estimated that 36% of households in the United States owned dogs and 30% shared their lives with cats. Cats and dogs aren’t the only animal friends owned by U.S. households. Other pets include horses, birds, rabbits, rats, snakes, lizards, and even spiders.

On the other hand, animals aren’t the only stress-fighters we have in our homes. Plants, including indoor plants and outdoor gardens, also have multiple benefits when it comes to chasing our blues away.

How pets help with stress

It is hard to stay mad at the world when you come home to a dog who is excited to see you or when your cat bumps you with her head and purrs. The unconditional love offered by a pet is a surefire stress-fighter. Living with an animal helps reduce tension and improve overall mood. Patients with diagnosed depression and anxiety typically benefit from a pet in the household.

According to this article by WebMD, pets offer a wide range of benefits to help fight stress in our daily lives. They include:

  • Love without conditions: Pets don’t have restrictions on their relationships. Because of this, it is easy to seek comfort with them. You don’t have to feel judged or need to be social to interact with them. They just are and give you permission to just be.
  • Good responsibility: While depression often convinces people that they are unable to take care of themselves, adding daily responsibility actually helps with recovery. Knowing that you’re needed is a strong push to get you up and active.
  • Built in activity: Speaking of being active, with a pet you have to get moving from time to time. This is most true when you own a dog that will need regular exercise and walks. Cats also need some activity to stay healthy and playing with a string toy can provide short bursts of energy in the day.
  • A routine: Many people who struggle with depression find that having a daily routine helps them function better. With a pet you have to make sure that you feed them, walk them, and clean up after them. All of this can provide structure.
  • Tactile comfort: Petting a cat or a dog can have a comforting effect, too. There have been multiple studies that demonstrate the value of human touch when it comes to stress relief, but animals provide similar benefits.
  • Lower blood pressure: And because of all of these things, people who share their home with animals generally display lower blood pressure than their petless counterparts. So go adopt that kitten or puppy who needs a good home and know you’re not only doing something good for them, but for your own health.

How plants help with stress

You are far less likely to curl up with a ficus on your lap and watch movies but household plants and your outdoor garden are also stress-fighters. In this case it is about the reciprocal relationships between the plants and our own health. Plants release oxygen into the air and a home with house plants will often have better air quality than one that doesn’t.

Outside of your house gardening can also provide a number of stress-fighting benefits. These include:

  • Fresh air: Multiple studies have shown that getting outside in the sun and the fresh air is a great boost for our brains. This is why many people go for walks to clear their head. Heading out to the yard to garden offers similar benefits. Don’t be afraid to soak up the sun.
  • Hands-on activity: In a similar way to the tactile benefits of pets, there is also a benefit to literally getting your hands dirty. The feeling of the soil in your hands and the activity of planting helps you focus your mind. In many ways it is similar to mindful meditation.
  • Exercise: Gardening is a very physical activity. You lift, you bend, you dig, and you move around. Exercise in general helps beat stress and depression so why not focus your activity around something you love, like flowers and plants?
  • Mental stimulation: Planting is also a cerebral activity. In studies cited in the above-mentioned article, adults who gardened had a much lower risk of developing dementia as they aged. While this connection might not be completely understood, the combination of the mental and physical activity that gardeners engage in is beneficial to brain health.
  • Useful and beautiful plants: There is also a satisfaction that comes with gardening. Whether you’re using colorful flowers to beautify your front lawn or sowing seeds that will eventually feed your family, gardening is a satisfying practice.

Both your plants and animals may be the unsung heroes of your household. They help you overcome stress, regulate your mental and physical health, and make your home cozy. This year, for Earth Day, why not pay it forward by volunteering for any conservation or animal rescue events in your area? Consider talking with local shelters and donating items they need or working with a group of people to clean up a river bank near your home. You can find many opportunities online at VolunteerMatch.org. These activities will be helpful and satisfying and honor the plant and animal stress-fighters in your life.

Do you have a garden or pets that act as your stress-fighters?

Image by Bernhard Latzko via Flickr

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