In recent years, the pandemic has placed a precedence on family time, mental health, and rethinking how we care for ourselves. With an increased awareness of factors impacting mental health, most people notice they are also affected when the seasons change – some would describe this as “going into a funk.” This is known as seasonal depression; seasonal depression can look different for many people. Some people decline when it is colder, and some decline when it is warmer. It’s important to account for the support around you when you begin to notice shifts in your mood and body that accompany the change in seasons. If you’re not sure who or what is in your support group, tune in to yourself, and identify those people, places, or things. Once you have that support group, take a personal inventory of who is there for you and what else might be needed. Since the pandemic, there has been an increase in hobbies and interests, including an increase in pet adoption. Animals can provide comfort, support, a sense of self, and responsibility during their life for all generations, old and new.

Why Does it Matter?

From Mental Health America, about 5% of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression). Pets have been statistically proven to be attuned to our behaviors and emotions (HelpGuide, 2022). Some of the depressive symptoms one can experience are low energy, low appetite, insomnia, sad mood,  depressed episodes, or high anxiety levels. Taking care of a pet, specifically dogs and cats, can reduce stress, ease loneliness, encourage physical activity due to outside obligations, and have secure attachments with owners and other family members. “Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate serotonin and dopamine levels (the feel-good hormones) which calm and relax” (HelpGuide, 2022). Pets can ignite a passionate sense of self and boost us up as people just by having unconditional love for us. To us. They are the most excited to see us when we are home or just paying them attention. These animals are remarkable creatures and allow us to give them companionship and comfort during these family-orientated times. Pets allow us to depend on them for love and support in exchange for a lifetime of connection.

Feel Good Social Connections

Self-care and animals are linked subconsciously. When you walk your dog in the morning, and you run into another person, the “good morning” interaction occurs. That could be all the interaction a person gets in a day if they tend to self-isolate at home. Pets can make us more social and engaged in physical activity. There may be opportunities to interact with others in the pet aisle at the grocery store when debating what food to buy, what treats to splurge on, or maybe create space to connect over the loss of a loved one and the introduction of a new four-legged addition to the family. Pets can bring us together more than we know and help to break down that awkward feeling that might come with social interactions. “People with disabilities often find that able-bodied people are socially awkward with them; if they have a dog, it breaks down barriers and allows a more comfortable and natural interaction” (The Guardian, 2022).

Final Thoughts

Even if pets are not your thing, there are multiple ways to achieve the same satisfaction felt when caring for an animal. One can get into houseplants, cooking, and other physical activities as a means to feel connected to a sense of self, community and purpose. Mental health is an increasingly significant issue for more Americans daily. Mental health needs to be addressed in numerous ways to benefit peace of mind, improve mood and connect with those around you. It is essential to check in with yourself around the holidays or when you notice a change in your behavior or attitude. This season, challenge yourself to come up with a list of ten things you enjoy doing that make you feel good about yourself. Implement those things into your daily routine or monthly routine. Stick with it and be consistent. If you cannot have consistency, dedicate one day a month to yourself to reset, refresh, and renew your space, your mind, and your spirit.

Happy Holidays.


About the author: Bria Turner