More and more people have adopted pets over the last year, as spending time with animals is a research-backed way to lower stress and anxiety. And yet, you don’t need to own a pet to reap the stress-reducing benefits. If pet adoption isn’t an option for you, you can still find comfort in visiting a friend’s pet, visiting the dog park on your lunch break, or taking a trip to a petting zoo over the weekend.
So if you need another excuse to keep your cat on your lap during the workday or take your neighbor’s dog for a walk around the block, here are three reasons why our pets can help us cope with stress:
They calm our nerves in high-pressure situations
When we’re feeling particularly stressed and anxious, being in contact with an animal can actually help calm our nervous system. In 2019, a group of scientists decided to test how petting cats and dogs could impact stress hormones among college students. They found that students who interacted with the animals for only 10 minutes already felt less anxious afterward. “We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” Patricia Pendry, Ph.D., an associate professor in Washington State University’s department of human development, told Science Daily. “What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way.” And it did!
They help us feel connected in isolating times
Many of us have felt lonelier than ever this year, as we’ve been physically separated from our friends and family. But in times of isolation, research shows that social interactions with animals can replace interactions with humans in many ways. And although staying connected with our human loved ones on Facetime and Zoom is important, studies have found that petting an animal, or actually talking to your pet, can foster a sense of emotional connection and companionship as well.
They remind us of the power of caring for another being
Whether you own an animal yourself or you’re pet-sitting for the weekend, there are real benefits to the everyday responsibilities of taking care of another being. The little reminders of simply taking a break from our work to walk the dog, feed the cat, or refill the water bowl can add necessary routine to our schedules and give us a sense of fulfillment in taking care of someone else.