How Pets Help Us Through the Holidays (And Other Tough Times)

Estimated: 2 minutes to read

The holidays can be a challenging time for so many of us. We may find ourselves feeling isolated, stressed out, anxious — perhaps a combination of all three. The holidays can amplify feelings of loss. They can serve as reminders of the past, or of goals we perhaps haven’t yet reached, or milestones we have yet to cross. These are all common, understandable, and valid feelings. If this resonates, you are not alone.

But perhaps you aren’t physically alone, either. Maybe you, like me, have a four-legged friend covered in fur laying by your feet. Pets are great companions for millions of people, and they can be especially helpful for our mental health!

Pets can reduce anxiety and stress, as well as help manage depression. They provide companionship, helping us feel more secure, wanted, and needed. Coming home after work to a pet who is endlessly excited to see you brings a smile to your face, but it also lowers your cortisol levels and your blood pressure.

If we’re alone over the holidays, it can feel like the days drag on or there’s little to do or look forward to. With pets, we have structure and routine, helping us feel more grounded and focused. It helps us be more active in days where we may not feel up to it, getting us outside in the fresh air, which can improve mood and sleep.

Simply petting an animal fulfills the basic human need for touch, helping to soothe our worries and anxieties, and giving us a healthy boost of serotonin and dopamine. So if you are feeling a bit more isolated over the holidays, snuggle up to your companion animal, take a deep breath, and know you’re already on your way to feeling okay.

If you or someone you know need to talk to a therapist, please reach out to us here.

Cindy Trawinski is a licensed clinical psychologist, a Diplomate in Process-oriented Psychology (also known as Process Work) and a certified Imago Relationship Therapist. She is a founding partner of LifeWorks Psychotherapy Center and North Shore Psychotherapy Associates and has offices in Chicago and Skokie, IL. Cindy is the former CEO of the Process Work Institute, in Portland, OR and a member of the International Association of Process-oriented Psychology (IAPOP), in Zurich, Switzerland. Cindy is a frequent speaker on topics including: Creativity, Diversity and Multicultural Issues; Sex Positivity; Rank & Power; Therapist Bias; and Polyamory.