Stress is a part of our everyday lives. We keep it balanced by doing things that bring us joy, which is why it’s no wonder that pets play a big role in stress reduction. Only recently have scientists started to discover why it happens and the true magnitude of that effect.
Pet Your Stress Away
A study from 2012 monitored how the levels of oxytocin vary while petting an animal. Human-animal interactions have been linked to multiple benefits such as reduced heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety – all of which drastically increase under stress. Even short interactions with a pet increase the production of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease the levels of cortisol – the stress-causing hormone.
Another study found that petting dogs for just 10 minutes provided immediate stress relief in students preparing for complicated exams. The psychological effects of decreased cortisol helped them perform better while increasing feelings of self-esteem. It’s been noted that pet owners are all-around less fearful and don’t feel as preoccupied as people without pets.
Pets can serve as important sources of social support and provide many psychological benefits for their owners, one study concluded. The stress-reducing effect they have is linked to a lowered risk of heart disease. Physical activity combined with mental benefits increases the chance of surviving a heart attack.
A 10-year-long study showed that people who don’t own a pet had a 40% higher risk of having a heart attack and a 30% higher risk of other heart-related problems
Added Physical Effect
While it’s great therapy, walking your pet also serves as a healthy exercise. Mental and physical health are interconnected. Going on regular walks with your four-legged friend helps take the mind off of stressful situations, boosts your overall cardiovascular health, and increases the sense of well-being. Pet owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise goals.
Pets add structure and routine to your day and have been known to decrease feelings of loneliness. A study found that thinking about your dog has the same effect on your brain as thinking about a close friend and that the support pets provide complements those from human sources.
In an experiment done in 2018, individuals with increased blood pressure were divided into two groups depending on whether they owned a pet. Both underwent medical therapy, however pet owners experienced significantly better results in response to mental stress. Those who only received the medicine had an average heart rate of 91 compared to pet owners’ 81 beats-per-minute.
How big of an effect they have is illustrated best in their use as helping to manage PTSD symptoms? Service dogs help war veterans deal with stressful situations after going through trauma. Oxytocin boost helps reduce the severity of flashbacks, emotional numbness, and outbursts of anger. After about 5 months, many individuals notice a large improvement in their mental health.
Our lifetime companions take care of us in a very similar way that we take care of them. By taking your pet for a walk, you’re boosting both his and your health and happiness.