Lupita Nyong’o finds the ‘purrfect’ way to mend her broken heart: Why pets are good for mental health

Actress Lupita Nyong’o says adopting a cat helped her recover from a broken heart. Let us tell you the health benefits of having a pet.
Lupita Nyong’o says her cat helped to heal from a broken heart. Image courtesy: Lupita Nyong’o/Instagram
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 7 Jun 2024, 05:00 pm IST

Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o not only overcame her fear of cats for a movie role, but also adopted one. Being a cat momma has been great for her mental health. The Hollywood star has revealed in a new interview that her cat Yoyo helped her when she was dealing with a “severely broken” heart. Pets are known for being man’s best friends, and that’s also because they provide unconditional emotional support to humans. Playing with them or just holding them can reduce stress, and improve your mood. Read on to know the mental health benefits of having a pet, and how a cat helped the “Black Panther” actor bounce back!

Lupita Nyong’o on dealing with depression

In her upcoming film, A Quiet Place: Day One, Lupita Nyong’o’s character owns a cat. But in real life, she was not a huge fan of cats. She underwent some intense “cat therapy” after which she fell in love with the furry animal and she adopted a cat following the film’s shoot.

The rescue cat is a two-year-old orange tabby named Yoyo. Yoyo entered Lupita’s life when she was so emotionally low that her mother and best friend had to fly in to support her.

“I was really having a hard time believing in joy. I was flirting with depression. I wasn’t there yet, but I was flirting with it. And I had a voice say in my head, ‘Get a cat,'” she told Glamour. The actress, who parted with her boyfriend Selema Masekela last year, shared that Yoyo was the one who pulled her out of a “super-low” point as she dealt with a “severely broken” heart.

Lupita also described how it was as though the universe conspired to bring Yoyo into her life. The adoption center where she eventually met Yoyo had a display sign that somewhat read, “Not over your ex? Foster a cat.” And that was “spot-on” for the actor! Now, Lupita’s Instagram page is replete with videos of Yoyo, reflecting just how much they enjoy each other’s company.

Lupita Nyong’o says her cat helped to fix her broken heart. Image courtesy: Lupita Nyong’o/Instagram

Lupita Nyong’o announced breakup publicly

Lupita began dating American television host and sports commentator Selema Masekela in December 2022. As a couple, they were quite open about their relationship, sharing tidbits from their personal life on their social media space. It was in October 2023 that Lupita Nyong’o told the world about her breakup through Instagram.

She wrote a lengthy and heartfelt breakup post, which partly read:
“I find myself in a season of heartbreak because of a love suddenly and devastatingly extinguished by deception. I am tempted to run into the shadows and hide, only to return to the light when I have regained my strength enough for me to say, “Whatever, my life is better this way.” But I am reminded that the magnitude of the pain I am feeling is equal to the measure of my capacity for love. And so, I am choosing to face the pain, cultivating the courage to meet my life exactly as it is, and trusting that this too shall pass.”

While she did not name Selema Masekela in the post, she wrote that she wanted to “publicly dissociate myself from someone I can no longer trust”. Check out the whole post here!

What are the mental health benefits of having a pet?

Nyong’o’s cat turned out to be beneficial for the actress’ mental health. Turns out, pets in general, can provide numerous mental health benefits!

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1. Reduced stress and anxiety

Playing with or cuddling pets can significantly reduce stress levels, says
psychiatrist Dr Rahul Rai Kakkar. The act of petting a dog or cat can increase levels of oxytocin or the love hormone, and decrease cortisol (the stress hormone), promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.

2. Reduced loneliness

Pets offer unconditional love and companionship, which can alleviate feelings of loneliness. They provide a consistent presence that helps fill emotional voids, particularly for those who living all by themselves.

3. Increased physical activity

Owning a pet, especially dogs, encourages regular physical activity, as they have pee or poop outside every day. Walking or playing with pets can improve physical health, which in turn positively impacts mental well-being by releasing endorphins, says the expert.

4. Enhanced social interaction

Pets can be social catalysts, helping their owners connect with other animal lovers. Dog parks, pet-friendly events, and community activities often help with social interactions that can lead to new friendships.

5. Improved mood

Pets can enhance your overall mood and provide emotional support. Their playful and affectionate nature can bring joy and laughter. So, they may reduce symptoms of depression and promote a more positive outlook on life.

6. Sense of purpose and routine

Caring for a furry animal instills a sense of purpose as well as responsibility. The routine of feeding, grooming, and exercising a pet can provide structure to daily life, which is beneficial for people with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, says Dr Kakkar.

7. Support in coping with trauma

Pets can provide emotional support for people dealing with trauma or grief. They are non-judgmental, so that offers comfort and a safe space for emotional expression, aiding in the healing process.

Which animal is best for stress relief?

Dogs are often considered the best pets for stress relief due to their high level of interaction and the physical activity they require, says the expert. Their loyalty, affection, and ability to sense and respond to human emotions make them particularly effective at providing comfort and reducing stress. Dogs encourage their owners to engage in regular exercise, social interaction, and establish routines, all of which contribute to stress reduction. Interacting with dogs may also strengthen people’s brain waves linked with relaxation and rest, as per a study published in the PLOS One journal in March 2024.

Spending time with pets can improve your mood. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Cats are also excellent for stress relief, especially for people who prefer a more low-maintenance pet. Their purring may have a calming effect, and they provide companionship without the need for extensive physical activity. Cat-human interactions may help reduce negative moods (anxiety and depression) in a person, according to a 2021 study published in the Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

Do pets or friends help reduce stress?

Pets and people both offer unique forms of support in combating stress. Pets can be particularly effective due to their non-judgmental, consistent, and unconditional companionship, says the expert. They offer a sense of security and routine, which can be especially comforting during stressful times. Unlike human relationships, interactions with pets are free from complex social dynamics, making them simpler and often more immediately comforting. However, human social support is also crucial for comprehensive mental well-being. So, pets can complement human relationships but are not a complete substitute.

Pets offer numerous mental health benefits, but don’t ignore human relationships.

Natalia Ningthoujam

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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