Want To Pulverise Stress? Get A Furry BFF!

Jayne Henderson
Bed Full, Robert Michalove CC BY 2.0

People in the UK are reeling under stress, according to the Mental Health Foundation, with 74% of people feeling that they cannot cope with this burden. Because stress is strongly linked to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity, it is important to find proactive ways to achieve a more peaceful mental state. One way to do so, say researchers at Washington State University, is by interacting with cats and dogs for just 10 minutes a day. Doing so will put you in a better mood, and help you improve your physical and mental health in the long term.

Soft, Furry And Powerful

The study is the first of its kind to show the powerful effect that interaction with pets can have in a real-life (rather than a lab) setting. In the study, a group of 249 students were divided into four groups. The first group interacted with pets, the second watched them doing so, the third watched a slideshow of the same animals, and the fourth group simply ‘waited’ for the chance to interact with them. The findings showed that those who directly interacted with pets had a significant drop in (stress hormone) cortisol compared to the other groups. This was the case regardless of whether they had high or low stress hormone levels before they began the interaction. Lead researcher, Patricia Pendry stated, “We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions. What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way.” She added that their findings are “exciting,” and indicate that spending time with pets can have powerful effects on people’s physical and mental health in the long-term.

Can Pets’ Needs Be Stressful?

If you don’t already have a pet and are considering getting one, ensure that you are fully aware of the expense and time involved, so as to ensure that you don’t end up feeling more stressed than you initially were. Research indicates that the lifetime cost of dog ownership is around  £16,900, while cats will set you back around  £17,200 over the course of their lifetime (these amounts include food, vaccinations, bedding, leashes, etc.). Pets also need time for walks, vet visits and play. To reduce the time and money involved in pet ownership, shortcuts like regular delivery of essentials, taking power walks, and experimenting with vet-approved homemade recipes can stretch your resources further. Pet insurance can also help cover unexpected illness and injury, so do your research into various plans to ensure you obtain the maximum amount of coverage for your buck.

Boosting The Stress-Busting Effects Of Pets

If you are a proud new pet owner and you wish to strengthen the mental benefits of pet ownership, consider a co-sleeping arrangement. Researcher, Bradley Smith of the Central Queensland University in Australia, argues that “co-sleeping fulfils basic psychological needs and reinforces and maintains social relations,” adding that this practice should essentially be seen as both legitimate and socially relevant. Studies back these assertions: one 2012 Mayo Clinic study found that 41% of people felt that their pets helped them sleep better. It all hails back to the middle ages, when communal sleeping was seen as a way to boost security and warmth. The sense of companionship at bedtime can also make it easier to battle loneliness and stress.

Recent studies carried out on pets have shown that they can have major benefits for adults, teens and children alike. From encouraging seniors to exercise more to helping anxious students achieve a calmer state, pets are truly humankind’s best friend in many ways. One study shows that for many kids, pets (rather than siblings) are their very best friends. The secret behind the benefits of pet ownership could lie in the companionship and unconditional love they provide – both of which are powerful allies to have in what is undoubtedly a very stressful world.

© Jayne Henderson 2019

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