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Pets and Mental Health: How Furry Friends Can Lower Your Stress

by BetterSleep
Oct 17 • 4 min read
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Pets and Mental Health: How Furry Friends Can Lower Your Stress

It’s a well-known fact that stress impacts sleep. When you feel stressed out, you can’t sleep as well, or you may struggle to fall asleep at a reasonable time. It’s also a vicious cycle, with each factor making the other worse. One fun way to break the cycle is to enjoy the company of a pet.

How Pets Boost Overall Health

Sharing your life with a pet is good for you in many ways, including stress reduction. Here are just some of the many benefits according to animal and wellness studies:

  • Having a pet lowers blood pressure in general, and in particularly stressful situations.
  • Hanging out with a dog or cat raises levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which help you feel more relaxed.
  • People who live with pets have lower heart disease risk factors, including lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • People with pets survive longer after a heart attack than those without animal companions.
  • Pet owners experience lower levels of depression.

Research Shows That Pets Reduce Stress

So much of what a pet can do for your health circles back to stress. For instance, if you have a dog, you’re more likely to commit to daily walks. Regular exercise both improves physical health and reduces stress levels.

According to research, you don’t even need to own a pet to experience the benefits. In one study, researchers looked at college “Pet Your Stress Away” programs. These events bring in therapy dogs and cats to provide stress relief for students during exam time.The researchers at Washington State University measured students’ cortisol levels before and after interacting with the animals. They found that just ten minutes of interaction significantly reduced this stress hormone.

Researchers have also found that dogs can provide major benefits to people with more serious mental health challenges. In one study of patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, 84% experienced much less stress after getting a service dog. Many saw such significant reductions in their symptoms that they were able to decrease their medication.

How Do They Do It?

One of the most important ways animals help reduce our stress is by fulfilling our basic need for touch and affection. Besides lowering cortisol levels, touching and connecting with a pet also raises oxytocin levels. This is the hormone that helps humans form social bonds. It makes you feel calmer, more relaxed, and less stressed by physically lowering your heart rate.

Pet Ownership Isn’t for Everyone

While the benefits of animal-human interactions can be enormous, it’s also possible that owning a pet will increase your stress. Before you get a pet, make sure you’re ready for the time and financial commitments.

You should also make sure you’re not allergic. Allergy symptoms will make you more uncomfortable and could increase stress. If getting a pet would create conflict in your human relationships, the decision may hurt you, rather than help you.If you’re ready for a pet, the rewards can be significant. If not, consider lowering your stress in other ways, like getting more exercise, hanging out with friends, or taking up meditation or yoga. All of these activities will reduce stress and help you sleep better.

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