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What are the Real Benefits of Having a Pet During Stressful Times?

Just because you’re not experiencing a catastrophic event doesn’t mean you’re not suffering from cumulative stress. A clear link exists between social and economic inequality and poor mental health. There is a social gradient in mental health, and higher levels of income inequality are linked to a higher prevalence of mental illness.

We often think of stress as being a largely mental state. After all, it seems like we can stress out about things we only imagine. But stress is more than just a thought in our minds. Stress is a physical response in our body to a perceived threat. Thousands of years ago, this stress kept us alive by flooding our bodies with cortisol and adrenaline in large enough amounts to escape attacking animals or tribes. In modern times, our most stressful life events are much different. Our bodies respond the same way, though, and sometimes that can lead to illness.

As pet lovers, we can all agree there are many benefits to having pets in our lives, especially when times are tough. And science agrees. From emotional well-being to physical health, dogs and cats have a measurable, positive effect on us. This positive effect is especially important during stressful life events, particularly when we are faced with threats to our personal health and livelihoods. During these times, much-needed relief and comfort can be gained by spending time with your pet.

Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loyal companion. The unconditional love of a pet can do more than keep you company. Pets may also decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills. Research on human-animal interactions is still relatively new. Some studies have shown positive health effects, but the results have been mixed.

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.

The Physical Impact of Pets on People

Fortunately, stress and anxiety both tend to improve when you interact with your pets, in part due to the “feel good” hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin being released. Stress hormones like cortisol are also decreased. All of this is proven to boost your immune system, which helps maintain good health.

Additionally, people who have a pet tend to be more active (especially if you have a dog that loves their walks), which could mean reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, leading to an overall improvement in cardiovascular health.

Studies have also shown that owning a dog is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and, ultimately, mortality.

How Dogs and Cats Influence Human Emotions and Mental Health

Whether it’s in the form of stress, fear, depression, anxiety, or insecurity — when things get rough, our mood and overall mental health can be seriously compromised. Thankfully, we have our cats and dogs to help us through. Most of the time, just being around animals can lift your mood. But it goes much deeper than that.

  • Diversion. Having a pet can divert your attention from the stress and anxiety you may be feeling at any given moment and help you focus instead on giving and receiving love and care.

  • Morale. Pets can help keep your morale up and can motivate you to continue or seek treatment for emotional and mental health issues.

  • Less destructive behavior. People with pets tend to engage more in positive and self-enhancing behaviors, with fewer destructive, aggressive, and self-harm tendencies.

  • Comfort. When you’re feeling down, angry, or frustrated, a pet provides an important source of comfort. Pets are very good at reading our body language and frequently offer connection with proximity (closeness) or physical touch, which helps lower blood pressure and regulate heart rate.

  • Fighting loneliness and worry. Studies show that pets help reduce feelings of loneliness, depression, worry, and irritability. Our dogs and cats help us feel less lonely simply by being present with us. Being able to talk to our pets when we feel socially isolated helps us process emotions and keeps us engaged in our surroundings and day-to-day routine.

  • A reason to get up in the morning. The act of caring for another living creature generates a feeling of purpose and accomplishment we often lack during difficult times. This also boosts self-confidence and enhances social interactions.

  • A confidant. Many people feel they can confide in their pets, talking out loud and helping to sort out whatever they’re struggling with. Pets represent a judgment-free and unconditionally loving confidant.

  • Security. Pets can provide a sense of security when a person is feeling exposed or at risk.

Science supports that our pets make us healthier and happier, even in the most difficult times. Their ability to mentally lift us up, physically get us moving, and sometimes even force us out of our comfort zone cannot be overstated. During stressful times as well as happy times, we will continue to turn to our pets for their love, loyalty, and companionship. !!

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