It has been well reported that animals can help reduce stress levels and be good companions for those who spend a lot of time at home and/or have a physical or mental illness. This includes people who live with a chronic illness like thyroid disease.
I have, at the moment, one pet. A gerbil named Sweetie.
That’s me and her, taken today!
I love her to pieces, even though she’s tiny. I have had many gerbils in the past four years alone, as they sadly only live to around three years old.
She’ll be my last one for a while, as my partner and I feel we should take a break from having any pets for a while, and then re-evaluate. He really wants a dog next..
Now Sweetie is almost like my spirit animal. At just three weeks old, she suffered a stroke and miraculously survived. She’s blown peoples’ minds with how well she has done, given any opportunity. I feel like we have that connection, since I was hit with this horrible thing called hypothyroidism (you might have heard of it?) and although it hasn’t been easy, I believe it to be a big part of making me into the person I am. Both Sweetie and I have experienced being knocked down, but come back fighting.
Gerbils are sociable rodents that shouldn’t live on their own normally, but Sweetie has flourished since her cage mate died. She’s developed so many skills and really come out of herself. If she hadn’t, I would have obviously given her a friend, but she surprised me, and because of this, it seemed like a nice way to tie up a break from animals, when she leaves us.
Now, Sweetie is small, yes, but she’s affectionate, cute, fluffy and never judging or critical, like humans can be. It’s true, she’s not a cat or dog, which are often viewed as the superior pet of choice, but I love her to pieces. I woke up this morning feeling rough from oversleeping, and I came down to the living room to her cheeky little face waiting for me. I opened her cage door and she hopped out on to my hand, sniffed my face and sat in my hand. That’s when I took the photo above.
Holding something so precious in my hand reminds me of how vulnerable some things are, and how much they rely on us for survival.
And all lives matter. No matter how big or small.
I feel protective of any animals in my care and they ignite a passion in me similar to that for the people who join my Facebook group do, when they ask for help and explain what rough ride they’ve had with having hypothyroidism.
Then, and some of you won’t like the thought of this, I let Sweetie out for her daily run around the living room. It’s good for her mentally, as it stimulates her, and she finds it fun exploring. It’s also good for her physically. She’s no young gerbil now at three years old, so all these things are important to keep her young! And as I watched her darting around, peeping in and out of things, it made me smile. It made my heart beam and it made me happy. I get joy and happiness out of her being happy, and that’s got to be good, right?
After watching her for quite some time, I put her back in her cage (which she wasn’t happy about by the way) and I noticed that I felt a lot better. I was feeling less tired, I felt more positive, and the feeling when I got out of bed, of “Urgh, I just want a lazy day, today” turned in to “Right, let’s tidy up, have a clean and spend the afternoon sat in the sun!”
My negative, groggy, grumpy, fatigue feelings were gone. Even my headache had improved. Online, I found information that said spending time with an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin, and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. Now, considering I have high-cortisol (adrenal fatigue), which causes me symptoms such as fatigue, low motivation and stress, I consider it no coincidence that Sweetie probably had an affect on lowering that. Call me crazy if you will, but science shows it’s quite possible!
Research has also found that owning a cat or dog for example can:
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce stress hormones
- Boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain
- Be good for the heart
“There was a 20 year study done once that concluded that people who had never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a fatal heart attack, than those who had owned a cat. In another study done, they showed that dog owners actually had a significant better rate of survival one year after a heart attack so people who own pets have a lower risk of dying from cardiac disease including heart failure. It’s truly phenomenal!”
One study of Chinese women found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, reported better fitness levels and fewer sick days, and saw their doctors less often than people without dogs.
Pets offer unconditional love and non-judgemental ears. They can listen to your problems about battling a health condition such as hypothyroidism, and not make you feel like you’re wasting their time, like how you may feel with some humans.
Many hypothyroid patients also experience mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, and pets are known to help living with that, too. They offer unconditional, uncomplicated love, they provide purpose, routine and responsibility and social interaction, which is all very important for those who feel alone, low, useless or helpless. All feelings I felt when I was suffering from depression and under-treated hypothyroidism.
Do you have a pet or visit someone with animals, and notice that they have helped your battle with hypothyroidism, depression, anxiety etc.? I’d love to hear about it below.
You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given, but more reading and references can also be found at:
Written by Rachel, The Invisible Hypothyroidism
Rachel is a Thyroid Patient Advocate and Expert with Six 2018 WEGO Health Award Nominations. She is a highly ranked writer appearing in the Top Hypothyroidism Websites and Top Thyroid Websites 2018, and is a qualified Diet and Nutritional Advisor, also currently studying for relevant qualifications and certificates in Life Coaching, Motivational Speaking, Reflexology and more. She has worked with The National Academy of Hypothyroidism, The BBC, The Mighty, Dr. Hedberg, Thyroid UK and ThyroidChange, to name just a few. She is well recognised as a trusted and useful contributor to the thyroid community.