If you own a pet, you’ll probably already know about the mental health benefits involved. Walking a dog, for example, is a great way to unwind after a stressful day at work. Even the simple act of stroking a dog can have a profoundly calming effect on us.
Pets actually relieve stress in quite a few different ways; and to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we thought we’d talk about some of them.
We cope better with stressful situations
A study at the University of Buffalo in America involved asking subjects to perform mental arithmetic exercises. Half of the subjects did so with their pet at their side, while the other half did the exercises alone. Those with their pets demonstrated smaller increases in blood pressure and heart rate. There’s something about the presence of the pets we love that allows us to cope with pressure situations much more effectively.
Dogs in particular offer companionship and friendly interaction with their owners. Sadly, a relationship with a pet is the only interaction some people get on a daily basis. Being alone with your thoughts can exacerbate your stress and anxiety levels, but a pet’s love can alleviate your mental anguish. There’s also evidence to suggest that owning a pet makes you more approachable in public — increasing the human interaction you’re likely to encounter.
Reduced blood pressure
An initiative at Georgetown University in America allows stressed, anxious and tired students to play with puppies just before going into major exams. Indeed, dogs are taken into children’s hospital wards and care homes in order to de-stress patients and the elderly. There is evidence that interaction with animals reduces high blood pressure — a common symptom of stress.
Owning a dog gets you out of the house every day — or at least it should. Dogs need regular exercise if they’re to remain happy and healthy… and so do you. The more you’re out walking with your dog, the more exercise you’re getting. And it’s this physical activity that reduces stress in a number of ways. Walking is a great way to clear your mind, and the cardiovascular benefits lead to long-term stress-relief.
Staying in the moment
Mindfulness and living in the moment are both popular stress-relief methods at the moment. We tend to worry about things that may or may not happen in the future, which is a cause of perpetual stress for some people. But interacting with a pet helps us to focus on the here and now. Instead of worrying about problems that may never arise, we can concentrate on making our pets happy.
For you, this might involve playing fetch, going for a walk or simply playing in the living room. Take time out of each day to spend quality time with your pet, and should find staying in the moment a lot easier.
Fulfilling the human desire for touch
As human beings, we’re programmed to seek out touch. Take a moment to watch how people interact in a pub, a place of worship or anywhere that brings friends and acquaintances together. You’ll probably see people stroking arms, patting backs, holding hands maintaining physical contact in many different ways. But if you’re being deprived of this touch, your anxiety and stress levels may become elevated.
Imagine a time when you’ve been comforted by someone. If you were particularly distressed, the chances are that person would have physically touched you in some way. This is a natural instinct — a way of calming nerves, alleviating stress and showing compassion. Pets, and particularly dogs, deliver this same sensation that we’re all looking for. This is why simply sitting on your sofa with your dog asleep on your lap alleviates stress and anxiety almost instantly.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, spend more quality time with your pet — and think about these six very clear benefits. If you can commit more of your time to the animals in your life, there’s a good chance that your stress levels will come down naturally.