The Benefits of Having a Pet – A Mental Health Focus

The Benefits of Having a Pet

In my line of work as a counsellor, I hear a lot of sad circumstances –  suicidal teens, teens who self harm as  a way of coping, break ups among many other issues – all with one thing in common – hard to sit with feelings. No matter what the circumstances, the value of having a pet to confide in or simply cuddle, can be the one thing that keeps one going. This is known as a protective factor – one thing that can help get us through a difficult time. Here we discuss the benefits of having a pet to support us hoomans.

Have you ever had a pet? What was your experience with having a pet to chat/confide/console with?

If you’re anything like us here in Brisbane our family adores our furbaby Lacey. She’s a staffie mixed with something else, no idea what.  We were given her by a family member who could no longer keep her, so we took her in and she’s adjusted really well. The kids have welcomed her so easily with open hearts.

Over the months of having our beloved Lacey, I have noticed just how much she’s grown on us.  She’s not the prettiest of pups, she’s not one of those lap dogs, or cutsie dogs, but somehow she’s in our hearts all the same. What is it that makes her so valuable to us that have us caring for her so willingly and open heartedly? Dogs have a tendency to be loyal to those who treat them well. They also are affectionate naturally. They have so much love to give, so when they are treated well, they are happy and the bond grows.

Keep reading to find out more about the benefits of having a pet.

Types of Pets

the benefits of having a pet

The types of pets that people can have are so numerous. Each one has meaning to the owner. It really just depends on which animal you can afford, are drawn to, not allergic to or have preference for. The obvious ones are dogs and cats. Other options include guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, rats (gross, but some like them), birds, lizards, axolotl, pigs, horses, goats and many more. We are all unique individuals, so it’s important you choose what is right for you.

Protective Factor

One thing that I really value about pets is their protective factor for us humans. Although they can protect us from physical harm and threats, they can also protect us from ourselves. I’m talking about the value of having a pet to look after that makes us feel connected with them. Especially when we feel down, lonely, sad or any of the wide range of feelings us humans are prone to during hard times.

Your Pet gives you Unconditional Love

How many times have you cried and hugged your pet and told them what was going on? Or let them know you’re having a bad day. What do they usually do? They don’t get all judgy or criticize you do they now?  No they sit with you and show you they care during these times. Some say they even pick up on your sad vibes and share their love as a way to help you feel better. They aren’t judgemental, don’t tell you anything nasty, they simply sit with you and support you in the silence. Maybe even with a snuggle too.

Reduces Stress Levels

the benefits of having a pet

Having a pet to be with also reduces your stress levels and blood pressure. One study demonstrated the effects of pet ownership lowered blood pressure response to mental stress.

Even watching fish swim around can lead to reduction of stress. The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline have been shown to reduce when measured with those who are with their pets. Pets can also sense increases in cortisol in their owners and can respond in a calm way to support and help with reducing those levels through their connection. This can also help you to relax in the presence of your dog. Cat’s too can have a similar effect when a bond has been established between owner and cat.

Pets Improve Our Mental Health

Dogs have been shown to be the best pet for improving one’s mental health. If you can’t own a dog on your own for whatever reason, spend some time with a friend’s dog, offer to walk their dog, or maybe even do some volunteer work for an animal rescue centre, foster a dog or find out where your local pet therapy centre is. Chances are, this will help you get out into the community and fresh air and help motivate you to do something you wouldn’t usually do. This in itself can improve your mental health.

the benefits of having a pet

When experiencing challenging mental health issues, it can be easy to give up on life when you’re really struggling. When you’ve got a pet to look after however, you know that you can’t leave your pet to fend for itself. Plus your pet needs you too, because of the bond you’ve developed. Do you think they would miss you if you weren’t around?

Having a pet to hold, look after, be by your side also releases happy hormones. These hormones are released when we look at baby photos both of the human and animal kind. So it gives you another reason to have a pet to look after.

Practice Mindfulness with Your Pet

Other ways having a pet can improve your mental health is through distraction of your thoughts. When we focus on our pet, we distract ourselves from our negative thoughts that contribute to our mental health. It’s also possible to practice mindfulness with your pet.

Here’s how:

  • Simply be with your pet.
  • Slow your breathing down.
  • Now become consciously aware of your thoughts.
  • Don’t judge them, just notice them, acknowledge their presence.
  • Allow them to flow and move to the next thought without judging them as being bad or good.
  • Keep breathing slowly.
  • Take your time and be kind to yourself while you practice this process.

Grounding with Pets

Here’s how you can practice grounding with your pet….Notice how your pet feels when you touch it, what is the texture of it’s coat, soft or rough? What is temperature of your pet? Notice how warm or cool it is. Notice how it’s breathing, is it fast paces after a run around, or slower?

When you notice a thought while you do this activity, simply notice it and thank it for being there. Don’t judge it for being a good or bad thought, simply notice.  Keep noticing your pet’s features, colours, texture, sounds, movements. This is one way you can connect with the present moment through grounding with your pet and bring yourself into the present moment.

Now notice how you feel since from doing the above activity.

You Have Responsibility

Something that goes with having a pet however is responsibility. So even though you have a pet, when you’re having a hard time, it can be difficult to know how to manage the behaviours of your pet. Having a pet misbehave is only going to increase your stress, and possibly exacerbate your mental health if you don’t feel like you can manage their behaviours. But don’t let this deter you from getting a pet. I think it’s actually a very valuable investment in yourself if you can afford to keep a pet and any upkeep or vet bills.

If you are having a hard time managing your dog or puppy, I recommend you look into a high quality training program, one that values your dog, is gentle too and doesn’t rely on harsh training techniques. This is a very important factor to consider when thinking about a training program, as your furbaby is your responsibility, they rely on you for having their needs met, so it’s up to you to provide them with appropriate, gentle and effective training so the two of you can support each other on this journey of life.

Ensuring their food is of high quality will help you support them in optimal condition. I recommend you provide your dog with a low carb diet as this is their natural nutritional requirements. 

Final Thoughts

I hope I have been able to give you some ideas of the benefits of having a pet can help you feel more relaxed, less stressed and be present with your pet. No matter what you’re going through they are your companion and can act as a protective factor to make sure you stay safe and grounded.

Has your pet helped you with some tough times?

I would love to hear from you. Leave your comments below.


How to Meditate to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety

How to Meditate to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

I’m pretty sure by now you would have heard about meditation. What is your first image of someone meditating? I’m going to guess maybe a chanting buddhist monk sitting cross-legged perhaps? Or maybe that’s just my image lol! You may or may not realise how powerful meditation can be in being able to relieve stress and anxiety though. Learning how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety can be a valuable tool for increasing your well being.

In my line of work, I hear many different responses to the idea of meditating when proposed as a strategy to help relieve stress.

Now there’s no right or wrong way to meditate, it’s simply be in the moment, without fighting anything including thoughts and just be present. That’s the very basis of meditating. Below I will outline some ideas around how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety to help you manage these not-so-good feelings when they show up.

how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety

What is stress and anxiety?

Stress is our body’s internal response to what it perceives as a potential threat. Before industrialisation, this mechanism was essential for our survival as it put our body’s at a heightened awareness for us to decide whether to fight or flight aka run for safety if that’s what we perceived as the best solution to a threat. These days however, our perception of threat doesn’t usually come from the possibility of being in physical danger. It comes from a variety of sources including parenting, work demands, after school activities, managing a household, illnesses and so much more that can contribute to stress. Even from these kinds of stressors, our body activates it’s physiological responses that prepares us for fight or flight. In these cases however if the stressor doesn’t

how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety

go away or our perception of it doesn’t shift, we can experience increased impact on our daily function. Sleep, health, mental health and well being can all be affected by our physiological response to stress.

Which makes it even more important to get on top of how we respond to perceived stress.

When under stress cortisol is released. This leads to the production of cytokines which then contributes to inflammation. When cytokines are present, our sleep is disrupted, depression and anxiety increases, feelings of fatigue and blood pressure also rises.

Benefits of Meditation to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

  • Did you know that meditation can change your neural pathways which can help you manage stress and anxiety as you move forward with your daily meditations?
  • Practicing meditation can also reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. When our bodies have high levels of cortisol over a prolonged basis, it can impact our physical health as well as our mental health. It’s estimated that over 80% of visits to the doctor is stress related.
  • Clearer mind – with practice of meditation on a daily or regular basis, you develop the skill to become more mindful of how you respond in situations so you are less stressed and more able to respond without the physical symptoms of stress. This also allows your brain to work from a more relaxed stated which allows for increased creativity.
  • Meditation also contributes to enhanced self awareness.
  • Meditation practiced daily can also help you sleep better, deeper and longer as your mind and body are more relaxed.
  • Strengthened immune system – when we are in a relaxed state rather than heightened stressed stated, our immune system can manage better so we get sick less frequently.
  • Can also decrease age-related memory loss and thus improved memory as we age.
  • Has also been shown to increase kindness and compassion towards others.
  • Meditation has also shown to fight addiction.


Find a time that works for you. Some people find first thing in the morning works for them, while others find it helps to find some quiet time during the day or just before going to sleep.

When creating a new habit, it can take a few weeks for you to remember to do things consistently. So in the beginning I would recommend you set a reminder on your device on a daily basis to make sure you get round to doing your meditation as a way of developing your stress and anxiety coping strategy.

Value of Breathing

how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety

Just breathe! Is it really that simple?

Not for some actually. But stay with me here. Even if you are experiencing anxiety and think your breathing is slow, do yourself a favor:

  • Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold it for 2 seconds then let the air out for as long as you need to.

Do this at least 3 times before allowing your breath to return to its regular pace. Notice what happened for you. Was your breathing actually slow or did this exercise slow your breathing down a bit more? Often when we experience anxiety and stress, our breathing increases and we simply aren’t aware of doing that. It also means our brain get less precious oxygen which also affects our logical brain for thinking.

Breathing in meditation is an important step in slowing down your brainwaves and allows your body to relax.

Relax the Muscles

When you’re awake at night having trouble going to sleep, have you ever noticed what your muscles are like? If you haven’t noticed before try to remember to check them if you’re struggling to go to sleep. From personal experience, every time I can’t get back to sleep during the night, I check my muscles especially around my neck and shoulders and guess what? They’re tense as anything!!!

So to help with this issue, you can either listen to a guided meditation on youtube that guides you through your muscles and help you focus on releasing all of your muscles from head to toe. Or you can do your own body scan, noticing where you feel any tension and consciously release those muscles. This will also help you relax enough to get to sleep if that’s what the issue is for you.

Clear the Mind

how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety

This can be a tricky one. Especially when one is experiencing stress and anxiety. The trick here is to learn how to sit with the thoughts that are there instead of resist them. Have you ever found that an unpleasant thought keeps going round and round and round in your mind? I know I have on occasion. When you notice this happening, what do you usually do with this thought? I’ve found that people tend to resist it. What I mean by this, is they try to tell it to go away, or try to change what happened, so it keeps being stuck in their. When we try to change it, push it away, fight it being there, our thoughts stays there. Do you know why? It’s because we are focussing on it, which makes it stay there. When you don’t focus and resist it you can accept it being there. Then the fight to get rid of the thought dies down. Acceptance is the key.

Did you know that thoughts also, dare I say it…aren’t real. You can’t find them in the brain when one has an autopsy. They simply aren’t a physical thing. They come and go. That also means you won’t be stuck with these thoughts unless you choose to keep focussing on them. Yes it is a choice what you focus on. Especially if you choose to remind yourself of the thought. This might be confronting to some, that’s okay. It’s something to think about and consider as a possibility if you are looking at how to shift those ongoing thoughts.

So when you’re practicing meditation and you have ongoing thoughts, simply acknowledge the thought being there rather than resist it. Acknowledge it and thank it for it’s message. Don’t get caught up in any arguments with the thought, simply notice it there. Then focus on your breathing as a way to bring yourself back to the present moment and what you’re to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety

Be Present

One of the things to be mindful of when practicing meditation to relieve stress and anxiety is to be present. This means focus on this actual moment in time. What you’re currently doing in the moment. This is also how to bring yourself back from the stress and anxiety which is focussed on future worries and instead focus on just this moment.

An effective way to do this is to focus on your breathing. You can’t take a breath from the past, you can’t take a breath from the future, you can only breathe in the present. Bringing your focus to your breathing is a way to anchor yourself in the present. For more strategies of breathing and being present have a read of this post.

Two Main Styles of Meditation

Focussed attention meditation – focuses on single attention to a single object, sound, visualisation, breath, or thought. The goal is to reduce the thoughts in the mind through saying a word over and over, or focussing on your breathing, or listening to a calming sound.

Open-monitoring meditation – this involves focussing on a broader awareness of your environment, sensations, self awareness and even noticing your thoughts and feelings instead of suppressing them.

For guided meditations and ideas for how to meditate get your copy of Relax Your Mind ebook through this link or click on the banner below.



So living with stress and anxiety isn’t very fun and it has a physiological response to the body which over time will lead to unwanted health problems, potential mental health issues and sleep deprivation. So learning how to meditate to relieve stress and anxiety is essential to living a more relaxed, peaceful, stress-free life where you can live in the moment and handle stressful situations in a healthy way.

Have you used meditation as a way to manage your stress and anxiety? I would love to hear your experience in the comments below.



About Kat

About Kat

Heart Mindfully About Kat

Hi and welcome to Heart Mindfully. Mindfulness and heart aka compassion are components that are woven throughout this website. Through my experience as a counselor, I wanted to share with you the knowledge I have acquired in my profession and provide valuable information that might be relevant in being able to manage the stresses of life and help you on your self-improvement journey.

About Me

I was born to be a counselor. With Smiley as my surname, I felt like I had to always smile. As a kid growing up, you could imagine how naive this perception was, having to always smile, or be friendly. But in hindsight, I can see how valuable that has been for me. The ability to sit with feelings and acknowledge feelings is valuable. It is also important to look at things from a positive perspective  – reframe the situation.

I’ve been a counselor for young people and adults for 18 years. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Post Graduate Diploma in Psychology and a Masters in Counselling. I have a particular interest in mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, (ACT). These are my favorite strategies for supporting clients in their journey of life and issues they struggle in their vulnerable moments.

I have heard so many stories from a wide range of people that would break your heart. Frequently, I am in awe of people’s inner strength and courage to grow from their experiences. Alongside these experiences also comes resilience that builds through being open to share their story and draw on resources they didn’t realize they had.


What I hope to achieve here

It’s a safe space to share and not be judged. I plan to discuss and share all sorts of things related to self-care, self-love, and strategies for managing feelings. I aim to provide various strategies to help nurture yourself and be kind to yourself. Recognizing how much anxiety is a struggle is also a focus I have to help those affected develop strategies to manage and overcome this condition.


The Purpose of This Website

The purpose of is to help facilitate your reflections and process your experiences wor to work through life’s challenges. It’s also to provide inspiration and ideas of how to manage during the tough times so that you can build on your resilience to be able to handle what life throws at you. I plan on discussing various strategies, topics, and issues with the hope that these will be inspirational and thought-provoking while also being helpful and supportive.

As this is a blog, affiliate links will be used to help me provide this site to you, my valuable reader.

If you would like me to discuss something in particular leave a comment below. I am open to adding information that you want to know more about if I know about the topic. If you have any questions, use the contact us page. I will be more than happy to help you out.

All the best,

Kat (Smiley) McGregor