21 ways pets help you beat the holiday blues

Holidays got you down?

Traditions can be a source of joy, but not for everyone all the time. It’s painful to feel sad when everyone else seems to be so happy. Maybe you lost a loved one or ended a relationship this year. Trimming the tree or lighting candles alone reminds you that life is forever changed.

Perhaps your family saves their nastiest barbs for what’s supposed to be a time of love and good will. Possibly Auld Lang Syne makes you tearful instead of giddy. You don’t have to be clinically depressed to feel out of step with the calendar’s forced cheer.

Whatever saps your spirit, pets can help. Here’s how:


  1. Get you to exercise.

Physical activity is a proven mood lifter. Walk the dogs or drag a cat toy around for her majesty. Walking dogs DSCN6249Taking care of yourself includes the body your feelings live in.

  1. Be your boon companion.

When your friends and family let you down, your four-legged family members keep you company without the drama. They’re happy to join your adventures or cuddle up while you watch trashy movies. If the house is too quiet, a chatty parrot or purring cat gives you someone to talk to. And you’ll get all the best lines.

3. Shift your focus to someone else.

Do fun, active things with your pets or for your neighbor’s pet. It will take your mind off your own problems, and move it to something with more potential.

  1. Offer you friendly physical contact.

People need hugs. Touch strengthens the immune system, and pets provide an opportunity to reap those benefits.  A caress, a nuzzle, and you’ll remember that someone loves you.

  1. Take a nap with you

Losing sleep can make you grumpy and feeds depression. Treating sleep problems so you get enough sleep will improve your state of mind. If you are one of those people who sleeps better with a warm body next to you, curl up with your pet.

  1. Spark your creative juices.

Making art, crafting, and writing satisfy your soul.  They help you feel productive instead of paralyzed.

Sketch the animals around you. Write your faraway mom a short note about how much your guinea pig loves his new toy. Bake dog treats. Crochet a cat toy. Create, and you’ll come out of the holidays with something to show for it.

  1. Get you to learn something.

It’s more fun to study something you love. Take a pet first aid course. Use your free time to prepare your dog for agility events. What you learn can keep your pet healthy and give you a new hobby, friends included.

  1. Inspire a visit to lonely animal lovers

Many people who love animals can’t have one of their own. Why not bring yours for a visit? Or invite them over to see your tropical fish? If your pet is sociable, consider training as an animal assisted therapy team.

  1. Invite you outdoors

The evidence is strong: Nature is good for us. Let your dog get you out of the house and into the great outdoors. Join a birdwatching group. Take a trail ride through the forest or down the beach. Research suggests that the more experiences you have, the happier you will be.

10. Provide an excuse to leave unpleasant events.

Trapped at a loud holiday party with people you hardly know? Family Feud starting at Uncle Harry’s annual get-together? Announce that your dog has to be walked every three hours and your cat gets cranky without her kibble. Excuse yourself and leave.

11. Lick your tears away

Going through a rough patch? Find that no one wants to hear how hard the holidays are for you? Your pet will not only listen but lick away your tears.

12. Get you into the here-and-now

When we are in the grip of sadness or fear, we grieve old injuries or worry about things that may never happen. Cats and dogs live right now. Like the best meditation teachers, pets remind us to stay in the present moment.

13.. Distract you.

Watching animals do their thing takes your mind off whatever ails you. In fact, animals make such good distractors, that people who hang out with pets after surgery need less pain medication. Let it work for you.

14.  Be your dance partner.

If your pet is willing to be picked up, put on your favorite music and waltz. Kitty not a fan of leaving the floor? Dance around your living room with moves inspired by different birds. Or if your dog loves to gambol, sign up for lessons in canine freestyle (dance steps with your dog!).  Blue ribbons and Internet fame, here you come.

15. Prompt you to try something new.

The old traditions may feel wrong this year. Make some new ones.  Pop Fido in the car and drive somewhere you’ve never been before.  Add your own additions to the potato latkes, cut your homemade dog treats with a candle-shaped cutter, and introduce your neighbors to Hanukkah. Head outside Rover and howl at the full moon.

16. Persuade you to talk to fellow pet lovers, even ones you don’t know.

Pets are great ice breakers. Animal lovers are friendly group, eager to talk about their furred, finned, or scaly family members. Say hi at the dog park. See if your pet supply store has special events. Start an animal-oriented book club.

17. Respond to a pet blog.

The web is full of sites, photos, and blogs about pets. Your fellow animal lovers are sharing hearts and experience for your enjoyment. They’d love to hear what you think. Take a moment to repin a photo or comment on an article. Like this one.

18.  Excite you to throw a pet-friendly party

How much fun would you have at a party where your pet was welcome? Right. Why not organize one yourself? Mulled cider and Scotty-shaped cookies. Or ice skating at the park. Your friends will thank you for it.

19. Inspire you to volunteer at shelter

You know how good you feel when you do something for someone else? Think how much your local animal rescue group could use an extra pair of hands. Or your fundraising efforts. Or your word smithing for their newsletter. Even a small act of kindness lifts your spirit and may help you live longer.

20. Excuse you from Facebook and other places where people seem happier than they really are.

Most people put the best version of themselves on display. For lots of reasons you don’t want the world to know you’ve been laid off or spent half your vacation in your room with traveler’s tummy. If seeing your friends’ happy updates makes you jealous or feel like a failure, pets are your way out. And truthfully, wouldn’t you rather make new memories with them than cozy up to a computer?

21. Make you laugh

Let’s face it. Animals are hilarious. They vault into the air for the ball you threw. They use the sounds you taught them to wolf whistle at the dog. They stalk across your floor to pounce on imaginary prey. They make you laugh. And laughter is the best antidote to holiday blues.

Tell us what you think of these tips. Which ones will you try? What’s your favorite way to beat the blues?

Susan P. Cohen, DSW





One thought on “21 ways pets help you beat the holiday blues

  1. Tony Vario

    Love the idea of leaving Uncle Harry’s. Fortunately I don’t have family I wish to escape from but as the saying goes “you can pick your friends but you cannot pick your family”, and for those who wish they could, pets are always a good vehicle.

    Great job Dr. Susan!

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