These types of stresses happen to all of us almost every day. Whether it’s a short-term frustration, like somebody cutting you off in traffic, or the boss says he’d “like to have a word with you when you have a minute,” stress is an unavoidable part of living and can have a negative impact on our health. Stress plays a part in health problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
So what does all this have to do with pets? Studies show animals can help reduce everyday stresses and improve mood. Whether you have a pet, or go to your local shelter, there are a lot of reasons it’s good to spend time with an animal or pet.
Petting or hugging an animal fulfills our basic human need for touch. It can calm and soothe us by releasing oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief. Just being around an animal can reduce your blood pressure, which is one physical measure of stress.
Your pet gives you an uncomplicated love. You don’t have to worry about them asking questions or giving unwanted advice. Your dog rides with you in the car just happy to be there, never criticizing your driving or passing judgement on how many times you’ve been to the drive-thru this week. They’re great listeners: you can talk to them about anything without the fear of repercussions.
Animals are good company and can help keep you from feeling alone, but they are also great social magnets. You may not walk up to a complete stranger on the street and begin talking to them, but if they are with an animal it’s an acceptable interaction. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other while walking or in dog parks or training classes.
Pet owners on average get more exercise, especially dog owners. Dog owners walk more, take longer walks and the feeling of responsibility you have for your dog is a good motivator, making it less easy to talk yourself out of doing other physical activities with your dog.
If you don’t have pets of your own, consider volunteering your time at the shelter. Just spending an hour with the cats will help you feel more relaxed, and the feeling of well-being you get from helping will make you feel better, too!
For those of you with dogs, you can download the free app Wooftrax on your phone and every time you take a walk, you’ll earn points, which will be turned into a donation for the shelter. Your dog gets walked, you get healthier, and the shelter animals receive support.