If you're used to unwinding at the gym, with a yoga class, or during a full-body massage, you know the value of stress reduction. You clear your head, release tension in your back and shoulders, and take deeper, easier breaths.
You feel better and you might even live longer. Studies have shown that stress can make you sick and damage your body. Over time, enduring stress from work, politics or relationships can have a life-threatening effect.
For those of us who are exercise-averse, there's hope! Studies have also shown that interacting with your pets can help with stress reduction, leading to a longer, happier life.
There are many ways that owning a pet can help you reduce your stress levels, but we've compiled the three most compelling:
1. Petting a Dog or Cat Can Lower Your Blood Pressure
It's amazing what such a simple gesture can do for your body! While the act of petting your pet calms both you and your furry friend down, petting can also release your relaxation hormone (called oxytocin). This, in turn, can help you reduce your body's production of cortisol and the rising of your blood pressure and sugar levels in response to stress. Ergo, not only is some pet lovin' good for the proverbial heart, it's good for your physical heart, too.
Got a pet you don't touch? That works. You can enjoy a similar oxytocin release while watching birds, lizards and fish.
2. Pets Help You Feel Less Lonely...and Then Some
Stress can have an isolating effect on people, making us feel as if we're going it alone. But a sympathetic glance from a pet, can mean the difference between compounding stress from loneliness and acknowledging the love that pets bring.
Furthermore, having a pet can lead to an actual increase in social interactions with people. Pet owners are often perceived as friendly because of their affection for pets. This can make it easier for you to reach out to and meet other pet owners, and for them to do so to you. Having a strong social network can help you make it through some of the toughest, most stressful times in life. (Psst: Volunteering with a great team like NJ STRAYS is another fantastic way to build a stress-busting social network!)
3. Pets Can Make Us Laugh
They say "laughter is the best medicine"...because it is! Laughter has many immediate benefits, which can have long-term positive health effects. It can boost your immune system, trigger your endorphins, relax tense muscles in your body, and burn calories. We suspect this is why funny dog and cat videos generate a lot of buzz on YouTube. It just feels good to laugh.
The next time your dog chases his tail or your cat finds herself running sideways, take some time to have a chuckle or two. Enjoy a good laugh for the benefit of your body and mind, and let the laughter chip away at some of the stress that burdens you.