Pets and Mental Wellness: Amanda Phillips Of TheMentalDesk On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Pets and Mental Wellness: Amanda Phillips Of TheMentalDesk On How to Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Mindful Engagement: Spend quality time observing or playing with your pet, diverting attention from distressing news. Watching fish swim in an aquarium can serve as a meditative break from the relentless news cycle.

Pets have always been more than just companions; they play a pivotal role in enhancing our mental well-being. From the unconditional love of a dog to the calming presence of a cat, pets have a unique way of alleviating stress, anxiety, and loneliness. But how do we truly harness the therapeutic potential of our furry, feathered, or scaled friends? How can they aid in promoting mindfulness, reducing depression, or even enhancing social interactions? In this interview series, we are talking to veterinarians, psychologists, therapists, pet trainers, and other experts who can shed light on how to maximize the mental health benefits of having a pet. As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Amanda Phillips.

Amanda Phillips, from Chicago, is the founder of, a leading mental health resource. Driven by personal experiences, she’s a self-taught expert in the field. Beyond her professional pursuits, Amanda has a deep affection for animals. She has been a pet lover throughout her life, having owned both cats and dogs, each of which has brought joy and companionship to her journey. Her platform,, offers a blend of tips and reviews, guiding individuals towards mental well-being.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where life was simple and community bonds were strong. My early years were filled with outdoor adventures, playing with friends, and enjoying the close-knit environment of our town. However, as I entered high school, things took a turn. I faced bullying and began to struggle with my mental health, challenges that many teens encounter. These experiences were difficult, but they played a significant role in shaping my perspective and passion for mental health advocacy. Despite the hardships, I learned the importance of resilience, understanding, and the need for mental health awareness. These formative years, both the good and the challenging, greatly influenced my journey into mental health advocacy and the work I do today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Shortly after launching, I received an anonymous email from a reader who said my content had inspired them to seek professional help. Months later, at a mental health seminar in Chicago, a young woman approached me with tears in her eyes. She revealed she was the anonymous reader and that my blog had been a beacon of hope during her darkest days. She had since turned her life around, even starting a support group in her community. The realization that my work had such a profound impact on someone’s life was both humbling and exhilarating. It reinforced the importance of what I was doing and reminded me of the ripple effect one person’s actions can have.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“What Happened to You?:

Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” is a book that really connected with me. It’s co-authored by Dr. Bruce D. Perry, a renowned child psychiatrist, and Oprah Winfrey. The book delves into personal stories and scientific insights to shed light on the effects of traumatic experiences. What resonated deeply with me was the shift in perspective from asking “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” This simple change in phrasing emphasizes understanding and empathy over judgment. I found that the book underscores the importance of recognizing the root causes of behavioral patterns and offers hope for healing through connection, empathy, and understanding. I think it’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of compassion.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Can you share a personal story about how a pet has helped you or someone you know to improve mental wellness?

A few years ago, I adopted a graceful greyhound named Luna. With her sleek coat and gentle demeanor, she quickly became a magnet for attention wherever we went. Initially, I was taken aback by the number of strangers who approached us, eager to pet Luna and share their own stories of greyhounds they had known. This unexpected social interaction pushed me out of my comfort zone, and over time, I found myself becoming more outgoing and receptive to these spontaneous conversations.

Luna not only became my loyal companion but also a bridge to new friendships. The simple act of walking her in the park led to countless interactions, helping me build a sense of community in a city where I once felt isolated. More importantly, Luna’s calming presence became a balm for my anxiety. Her steady gaze and the rhythmic pattern of her breathing during our quiet moments together provided a grounding effect. Through Luna, I experienced firsthand the profound impact a pet can have on mental wellness, transforming not just one’s inner world but also the world around them.

While human interaction is essential for emotional well-being, in what ways do interactions with pets offer unique benefits that human relationships might not provide?

In my experience, pets offer a form of companionship that’s free from judgment, expectations, or complexities that often come with human relationships. Their unconditional love and unwavering loyalty provide a consistent source of comfort and support. Interactions with pets can be therapeutic; it has been shown that their mere presence can lower stress levels, regulate heart rates, and elevate mood. Unlike humans, pets live in the moment, teaching us the value of mindfulness and the joy of simple pleasures. Their non-verbal communication, like a cat’s purring or a dog’s wagging tail, offers a different kind of connection, one that’s intuitive and genuine. While human relationships are vital for emotional depth and growth, I have found that pets offer a unique bond that’s pure, uncomplicated, and often healing in ways words can’t capture.

Can you explain how this works? How do pets, particularly common ones like dogs and cats, biologically and psychologically help to alleviate human stress levels and anxieties?

Based on my research, biologically, interacting with pets triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection, in both humans and the pet. This not only fosters a sense of connection but also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. The rhythmic petting of a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and heart rate, promoting relaxation. Psychologically, the consistent and non-judgmental companionship of pets provides a sense of security and routine. Their presence can act as a distraction from anxieties, shifting focus from internal stressors to external engagement. Moreover, the responsibility of caring for a pet gives purpose and structure, further anchoring individuals in the present moment. In essence, pets offer a combination of biochemical and emotional mechanisms that counteract stress and anxiety.

In the backdrop of global events like pandemics or natural disasters, how have you seen pets playing a role in alleviating anxiety and providing comfort? Can you share some instances where pets have been integrated into therapeutic practices? How do they complement traditional therapeutic techniques?

Great question! In the face of global crises, pets have emerged as silent heroes, offering solace and stability. During the pandemic, for example, many found comfort in the routine of caring for their pets, providing a semblance of normalcy amidst uncertainty. The rise in pet adoptions during lockdowns is a testament to their role as emotional anchors.

Therapeutically, pets have been integrated into practices like animal-assisted therapy. For instance, I have witnessed dogs being used in trauma therapy, helping individuals open up and feel safe during sessions. In elderly care, cats have been known to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Equine therapy, involving horses, has shown promise in treating PTSD and developmental disorders.

While traditional therapy offers cognitive tools and coping strategies, integrating pets provides an emotional and tactile dimension. Their non-verbal communication and unconditional affection complement therapeutic techniques by fostering trust, promoting mindfulness, and facilitating emotional expression.

Not all pets are dogs or cats. From birds to fish to reptiles, how can individuals choose the right pet that aligns with their mental health needs?

Choosing the right pet is a personal journey, dependent on individual needs and lifestyles. For those seeking active companionship and responsibility, dogs are ideal. Cats, being more independent yet affectionate, suit those wanting a balance of interaction and space. Birds, with their songs and mimicry, can offer auditory comfort and engagement. Fish, with their tranquil movements in aquariums, can serve as meditative focal points, reducing stress. Reptiles, requiring specific care, can provide routine and a unique bonding experience. It’s essential to assess one’s capacity for care, time commitment, and desired interaction level. Consulting with pet experts or therapists can also guide choices. Ultimately, the right pet should resonate with an individual’s emotional needs, providing therapeutic benefits while ensuring the well-being of the animal.

How does the act of taking care of a pet — feeding, grooming, exercising — contribute to an individual’s sense of purpose and mental well-being?

I have found that caring for a pet instills a sense of responsibility and routine, anchoring individuals in daily tasks that demand attention and commitment. This act of caregiving fosters a sense of purpose, as one’s actions directly impact the well-being of another living creature. The rituals of feeding, grooming, and exercising not only structure the day but also provide tangible moments of achievement. These tasks, coupled with the pet’s positive feedback through affection or playfulness, reinforce feelings of self-worth and competence. Moreover, the physical activity involved, especially with pets requiring exercise, promotes endorphin release, combating stress and elevating mood. Overall, the consistent care of a pet offers a fulfilling cycle of purposeful action and gratifying response, bolstering mental well-being.

The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. From your experience or research, what are your “Five Ways To Maximize the Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet?” Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Routine and Structure: Establishing a daily routine with your pet, like feeding or walking, provides predictability amidst chaos. During political upheavals, consistent morning walks with a dog can ground the day with a sense of normalcy.

2. Mindful Engagement: Spend quality time observing or playing with your pet, diverting attention from distressing news. Watching fish swim in an aquarium can serve as a meditative break from the relentless news cycle.

3. Physical Activity: Engage in activities like walking or playing fetch. Feeling overwhelmed by headlines, taking a dog for a hike offers both exercise and nature’s calming effects.

4. Social Connections: Pets often act as social icebreakers, fostering connections. In a park, bonding with fellow bird enthusiasts can lead to discussions about parrots instead of politics.

5. Emotional Support: Simply cuddling or talking to your pet can offer comfort. On tense nights, holding a cat and drawing strength from its purring presence can offer calmness amidst the uncertainty.

The loss of a pet can be deeply traumatic. How can individuals navigate this grief, and how does it compare to other forms of loss in terms of mental health impact?

No doubt, the loss of a pet is akin to losing a family member, given the deep bond formed. Overcoming this grief involves acknowledging the pain, seeking support, and memorializing the pet. It’s essential to understand that grieving a pet is valid and profound. In terms of mental health impact, I have found that the loss can trigger feelings similar to human bereavement, including sadness, denial, and even guilt. While the societal acknowledgment of pet loss has grown, it may still be underestimated compared to other losses. However, the emotional connection to pets means their absence can leave a significant void. Seeking support groups, counseling, or simply sharing memories can aid the healing process. Respecting and validating this grief is crucial for emotional recovery.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of peace to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

That’s a fantastic question! If I could inspire a movement, it would be centered around “Compassionate Listening.” In today’s polarized world, we often talk past each other, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. Compassionate Listening encourages individuals to truly hear others without judgment, fostering empathy and understanding. By actively listening and validating others’ experiences and emotions, we can bridge divides, heal wounds, and foster unity. This movement wouldn’t just apply to global or political issues but also personal relationships, promoting mental well-being and reducing feelings of isolation. By creating spaces where people feel genuinely heard and understood, we can cultivate a world where empathy reigns, conflicts diminish, and peace proliferates.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)

I’d be honored to have a private meal with Brené Brown. Her research on vulnerability, courage, and empathy has been transformative for many, including myself. Her insights align closely with my passion for mental health advocacy. A conversation with her would not only deepen my understanding but also inspire new avenues for to explore. Brené’s ability to blend rigorous research with relatable storytelling is truly commendable. Discussing the intersections of our work and finding collaborative ways to further mental health awareness would be a dream come true.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can explore topics surrounding mental health, relationships, and overall well-being by visiting my website, It’s a comprehensive resource filled with articles, reviews, and insights aimed at empowering individuals on their mental health journeys. Join us there as we continue to advocate for mental health awareness and provide tools for optimal wellness.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment