Can an Animal Relieve Stress?
If you are a pet parent, you don’t need a scientific study to tell you that having a furry companion in your life just makes you feel better. Animals are there after you’ve had a bad day at work and only want to offer unconditional love and support – no judgment, no criticisms.
However, if you are a science “geek,” you will be happy to know that there have been several studies over the years that show how animals can relieve stress in both adults and children.
Let’s “dig” into the question of; can an animal relieve stress?
Scientific Proof that Animals Relieve Stress
Two studies, each published in the Journal of Research in Personality (and reported in Scientific American), examined the impact pets have on human emotions.
For the first experiment, people were divided into three groups. The first group of participants was given a pet to sit close by, the second group was only asked to think about a pet, and for the third, no animals were involved at all.
The participants were then told to list their goals and how confident they were in achieving them. Not surprisingly, the first two groups came up with a longer list of goals, and they were all significantly more optimistic that they could achieve them.
For the second trial, the same folks were once again divided into three groups. However, this time they were asked to perform a stressful task. The researchers closely monitored any changes in their blood pressure. For those participants that had pets close by or were thinking of pets had markedly lower blood pressure.
Having pets close to you, or even just thinking about your pets, has the effect of lowering stress.
Therapy Dogs & Emotional Support Animals
For many decades, the use of therapy animals in hospitals, hospices, schools, and nursing homes have shown remarkable improvement in the stress levels of those the animals visit. Patients are calmer and respond better to treatment, while students in schools are better able to face the challenges of the academia with regular visits from a therapy canine.
The use of Emotional Support Animals is also gaining popularity. Mental health professionals are seeing the positive results of their patients emotional and mental health when an ESA is prescribed as part of their treatment regime. Emotional support animals provide comfort and emotional support to their owners and are allowed to live and travel with their owners.
Other Ways Animals Relieve Our Stress
According to Alan M. Beck (Director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine), pets help relieve stress in eight specific ways;
- Lowered blood pressure. As the studies indicated, petting an animal or even just being in their presence of one can have a significant reduction on one’s blood pressure.
- Increase cardiovascular health. People with dogs tend to walk more, which is good for cardiovascular health. Increased activity levels also lower cholesterol.
- Dogs inspire activity. Having a canine companion will encourage pet parents to get out and be more active, whether that be walking, hiking, playing in the park, or even swimming.
- Provide companionship. Being lonely can be very stressful. Having an animal provides unconditional friendship, love, and loyalty.
- Pets help us live in the moment. Animals don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow – they live their lives in the present. Having an animal keeps us focused on the now, while we let go of our past mistakes or future burdens.
- Fulfill humans need for touch. It has been proven that physical contact decreases anger, builds a bond, boosts the immune system, and reduces stress. Pet parents also can use the healing power of touch, which is especially important for the increasing number of those who live alone.
- Provide laughter. Animals can be very amusing, whether they are getting into mischief, or just being themselves. Laughing, in turn, reduces tension in our bodies and provides us with those feel-good hormones.
- Increase our self-esteem. A recent study from researchers at Miami University and Saint Louis University found that pet owners had better self-esteem than non-pet owners. Animal lovers also tended to exhibit fewer signs of fear and were not as preoccupied with themselves.
Whether you find comfort and friendship in a dog, cat, bird, rabbit or fish, you will be reaping the benefits of a happier and healthier life for it. If you don’t have a pet, look to your local shelter or animal rescue to find your perfect companion.