When managing stress, anxiety or other emotional conditions such as loneliness, you may have been told to pay attention to sleep and other lifestyle factors–but have you ever been told to pet a dog?
There are many ways that dogs and cats, for instance, can help provide therapeutic benefits to their owners.
How Pets Relieve Stress and Anxiety
Dogs, cats and other furry friends can provide a therapeutic boost for most people. Obviously, sharing your home with a pet helps to decrease feelings of loneliness through companionship, but exposure to animals helps in other ways as well.
Caring for another creature that depends on you for its well-being can also lend a sense of purpose, helping to reduce anxiety and depression. Beyond that, petting an animal actually has an effect on our biochemistry on a deeper level.
Spending time with or petting a dog or cat, for instance, increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, which promotes an overall sense of well-being. It is also the hormone of connection, and helps to combat feelings of loneliness. Petting or playing with an animal also increases the production of endorphins and promotes a feeling of relaxation, which can help to relieve symptoms of anxiety and reduce physical issues such as pain.
Many animals will shower their owners and other visitors with love and affection, regardless of how that person is feeling on that day. Experiencing such unconditional love from a pet, even at times when you may have feelings of low self-worth, for instance, can be extremely beneficial.
Pets can be especially helpful to individuals struggling with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer. Human interactions can often be fettered by other people feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to say–a dog or cat on the other hand will interact with you as if you were any other person, providing a sense of ease.
Spending time with animals also benefits physical health. Pet owners have actually been found to have lower blood pressure than non-pet owners, and to recover more easily from heart attacks. Individuals who pet or play with a dog or cat, even for just five minutes, can benefit from lowered blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health.
The health benefits of spending time with animals have become so well known that many hospitals and other rehabilitative centres have adopted pet therapy programs. Universities even work with therapy animals from organizations like Pets As Therapy during stressful times such as exam week to help combat stress and anxiety amongst the students.
Tips for getting the most from your furry friends:
- If you do not currently own a pet, do not purchase or adopt one unless you feel competent and knowledgeable enough to do so. Owning a pet is a major commitment!
- If you are not sure pet ownership is right for you, or if you are unable to have your own pet at this time, there are plenty of ways to get some animal love in your life. Visit your local dog park or volunteer at the local shelter.
- If you have a pet, spend some time petting or playing with them for at least twenty minutes every day without any other distractions. Brushing your pet can also provide a therapeutic experience!
If you have a dog, or access to one, work on training exercises. Building skills together can provide a confidence boost to you both.
Pets provide a very simple and pleasurable form of stress relief. The enjoyment of a pet’s unconditional love provides enough reason to spend some more time with your furry friend. They can also help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, combat loneliness, and improve cardiovascular health.
If you do not currently have your own pet, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to spend time with a loving dog, cat or other animal. If you have a pet, share the love! Consider getting your dog or cat certified as a therapy animal, or simply bring it over to your next social gathering that is animal-friendly. Be mindful of creating extra time to spend with animals, and you will see improvements in your health and well-being.
Article written by Jeffery Roberts
Jeffery is a pet enthusiast and volunteer at his local pet shelter. His passion for animals started at an early age and through his work on becoming a veterinary student he understands and cares for pets of all species. Jeffery currently writes for The Happy Pooch and has 2 cats, a bird and a dog named Lucy.
If you have a story you would like shared on our website or on social media please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org