There are many benefits of parenting a cat, though one of the best is having a constant companion. A furry friend-turned-family member, your cat is always around, and for people suffering from anxiety, a cat provides a safe, calming constant in their life. Yes, someone may get the pet therapy benefits from visiting with a "rented" furry friend, but it's even better to welcome your own cat into your home.
While anxiety can affect a person at any age, it can be especially difficult to deal with in the teenage or young adult years. The American Psychological Association states, "Teens report that their stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults' average reported stress levels (5.8 for teens versus 5.1 for adults)." So what can a college-aged anxiety sufferer do to feel calm and confident?
Here's a story of Kennedy, a freshman entering college who struggles with anxiety. She recently adopted a kitten and certified her as a therapy cat so that she could bring her to college as part of her anxiety treatment plan.
Kennedy and Carolina Head to College
Facing anxiety as a teenager can feel overwhelming, and after graduating high school, moving out of the family home, and starting life over as a college student, it's a lot to handle. Kennedy, an incoming freshman at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, knew that she needed a strong support system before beginning her college career. She's no longer living at home, but she isn't in the dorms surrounded by other freshman experiencing the same changes and feelings. Kennedy is living in an off-campus apartment, and while her neighbors are all also college students, she'll have to put in extra effort to meet new friends; however, when you suffer from anxiety, that isn't always the easiest thing to do.
Kennedy says, "I have always had anxiety, but it has increased exponentially these past two years. Before I got my kitten, I would color, watch TV, or go on a run" as coping mechanisms when she was anxious.
While many teens long for their independence, anxious teens may feel both excitement and trepidation. Kennedy says, "I thought about getting a therapy cat about a year ago but never really pushed for one until the end of senior year when I realized I had a big transition ahead ... college."
So, she visited the local animal shelter to look for a kitten that could qualify as a therapy cat and assist her in coping with her anxiety. With so many animals available for adoption, it can be difficult to know which one is right for you. "I knew she was the one because of her cuddly personality and the way she pawed at the cage when I started to leave." Kennedy named the cat Carolina, and the two girls prepared for college life together.
Adopting Carolina was the perfect decision: the benefits of having a cat are clear. Kennedy says, "My anxiety has definitely gone down, especially during the transition period of living on my own. I love this kitten. The best feeling in the world is coming home after a long day and walking into your bedroom to find this cute furry animal sleeping in your bed." The benefits of having a cat that calms you is invaluable.
Sharing the Pet Therapy Benefits
Kennedy wasted no time to get Carolina registered as a therapy cat. Pet therapy benefits all age groups, but in Kennedy's case, it's especially important during the stressful college years. Because she knows firsthand how much Carolina calms her own anxieties, Kennedy wants to share Carolina's gift with others. While Kennedy has no immediate plans for bringing Carolina into the community as a therapy cat, she does welcome friends to relax with Carolina. "I invite people over (that I know) when they are stressed to see the kitten. She is just this cute ball of energy, and it usually lifts people's spirits! I haven't thought about taking her out yet since she is still quite little." Maybe in the future, Kennedy can bring her to a nursing home or children's hospital to lift other people's spirits, too.
Adopting a cat was a strategic decision for Kennedy. A person with anxiety may feel calmer by focusing on the needs of something or someone else, and a pet provides a good distraction. However, sometimes too much responsibility can be anxiety-creating in itself. Kennedy chose to get a cat, versus a therapy dog partly because of the level of responsibility needed. She says, "Having a therapy cat is much easier than a therapy dog because cats are pretty self-reliant, and I don't have to worry about her very much when I go to classes or go out for the night."
Kennedy and Carolina's story isn't rare. One of the best benefits of having a cat is that they help calm their pet parents. When you're struggling with anxiety, you'll take help from anywhere, especially in the form of a purring companion.
If you're considering adopting a cat to help ease your anxiety, that's great! With a little training, and a whole lot of love, your cat will be a welcome addition to your family. And remember adopting a cat can help ease two lives filled with anxiety: your own and a cat looking for a good home.
Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform, and even transform its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the Internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.