Illustration: SNEHA DEVASURENDRA
*Published in Scientific American Mind; **Name changed; ***Pet dog or cat controls blood pressure better than ACE inhibitor, By University of Buffalo, 1999; ****Courtesy: WebMD
Any pet owner will tell you that living with a furry friend comes with a heap of benefits, like constant companionship, love, and affection. Based on a survey*, 90% of pet owners consider the animal a part of their families. This factor alone reinforces the role of these animal-human connections. But, there’s something else that’s an even greater advantage: pets help you deal with stress!
Megha**, 28, mingles in a social circle, where the majority enjoy owning a pet. In her case, she has nothing against getting one, but the idea of having a dog, cat or even a fish seems like a huge responsibility. While this may be the case for many, the possibility of having a pet reducing stress may just be too good to pass up! Although there aren’t many in-depth findings on animal-human interactions, you can find research confirming the stress-busting factor. Apart from this, you’ll also find pet owners going on about how tension disappears with their four-legged buddies around them. Here is a glimpse of how the pet culture can improve anything related to stress.
Improves Your Mood
It’s quite impossible to be in a bad mood when a cute puppy is trying to play with you or running its furry paw over your hand. According to the general human-animal bond research*, positive human-animal interaction will change the physiological state in both animals and humans by increasing the stress-reducing hormone (oxytocin) levels in the brain and reducing the formation of the stress hormone, cortisol. Therefore, with controlled stress levels, it’s easier to chill out and be in a better mood. It’s the best way to relax, especially when your spa appointment gets cancelled!
Stabilises Blood Pressure Level
Not only do people feel better around animals, but they are also healthier. While ACE inhibiting drugs (an angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitor is a pharmaceutical drug used primarily for the treatment of hypertension and congestive heart failure) reduces blood pressure, they aren’t as effective in controlling blood pressure spikes that occur due to tension. In a study*** on pets and blood pressure, groups of hypertensive New York stockbrokers with dogs or cats were found to have lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who didn’t get pets. When the results were out, most of the participants in the non-pet group got pets!
Encourage You to Do Physical Activity
Stepping out of a brisk walk is not easy when you’re too stressed about work. However, much like any cardio-vascular activity****, walking boosts endorphins, which can minimise the production of stress hormones and get rid of mild depression. When you have a pet, you always have it better. If you’re a dog owner, you’ll be compelled to take her (or him) out for a walk. And, chances are you’ll also get to have a few laughs at their crazy antics! Even if you own a fish, you will find mental relief when you clean its bowl and (hopefully!) talk to it.
Listens to Everything You Have to Say
“Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving,” says
Dr Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Maryland. The power of talking out your problems is a popular notion. With an attentive pet, you may feel more comfortable letting your emotions show. After all, you know there won’t be judgement passed and your furry companion’s response will be full of love (because they’re not like humans).
It is important to mention here that while there are a tonne of perks of having a pet, it isn’t for everyone. Pets do come with additional work and care-giving that can bring its own stress, but if you can commit to it, having a pet will have positive impact on your life. What’s more, if you can’t absolutely own a pet, make use of its alternatives by spending time with your friends’ pets (heading to my bestie’s house pronto!). Also, while you interact with them and manage your stress levels, be aware that animals can be stressed too. This relationship is a two-way street and comfort goes both ways, so understanding when your four-legged friend needs her (or his) space will enrich your bond even further. Purr...
With an attentive pet, you may feel more comfortable letting your emotions show because you know there won’t be judgement passed.
Not a pet owner yourself, but still curious to understand the benefits of having one? Here are a few people who share their stories and experiences with their favourite non-human:
“Having a pet seems like hard work, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that it could increase their stress. I mean you’ve got to feed, clean, and love another living creature, right? It’s only a few rungs down the ladder from having a child *shudder*. But for me, having a pet was the only time I was able to fully understand the term ‘a labour of love’. It just has so many positives and a calming influence on things. In fact, the only stress you’ll experience is having to say goodbye to him/her when you leave for work.” —Sahil K., 27
“My dog knows right away when I’m upset and she does everything she can (whether it’s endlessly running around my body to tickling me to licking away my tears) to put a smile on my face. On the days I get panic attacks, I cuddle her, and that’s enough to make me feel better.”
—Navjot W., 33
“Having my cat around makes me feel special as I know that no matter what happens, her love for me will always be there. Sounds rather sentimental? I can’t help it.” —Alok S., 21
“Taking my dog out every morning gives me a daily dose of motivation and helps me feel carefree and relaxed.” —Rashmi R., 29
“One of my cat’s runs/starfish jumps down the stairs when she’s hyper, and it always makes my day a little better. It makes me happy to go home after a long day to them, and I definitely focus on that feeling instead of the stress or negative mood I might be in.”
—Henna P., 25