Pets: Relieve Stress,
Janet Raver, PCC, LICDC,EAP Consultant, Clinical Therapist
Animal Behavior Consultant Amy D. Shojai, CABC, states that 62 percent of the U.S. population owns at least one pet. Pets are great for stress reduction. Within 15 to 30 minutes in the presence of a cat, dog, or swimming fish, the level of the cortisol (stress hormone associated with anxiety and depression) in the body drops, and the stress relieving chemicals serotonin and oxytocin increase. People have experienced an increase in the output of endorphins and dopamines after just 5 minutes with an animal. Pets are better than ACE inhibitors at relieving high blood pressure. Just having a pet in the room, and not even touching him, lowers blood pressure and decreases stress. It doesn’t even have to be YOUR pet!
One of the advantages of having pets is that they don’t talk! The act of speaking increases blood pressure. Pets don’t judge us; they just unconditionally love us. Their behavior is very predictable and constant. Focusing on something outside of yourself, like a pet, is effective in decreasing elevated blood pressure. Patients who spent a short amount of time with a dog prior to a medical operation experienced a 37% reduction in their anxiety level due to focusing on something other than themselves. People also recover more quickly from operations and illnesses when there is a pet to give them support and companionship. Groups of hypertensive New York Stockbrockers who have dogs or cats were found to have lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who didn’t have pets. Strong pet-owner bonds lead to the greatest stress relief. Children and moms going through the stress of a divorce benefit from the presence of a friendly dog. Survivors of heart attacks who owned a dog were 8 times more likely to remain living one year after the attack. Owning a cat also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Felines can have a very calming effect on their owners.
For pain sufferers, pets provide an anxiety relieving effect that lowers the pain threshold, without the side effects of pain medications. Pets buffer the person from the emotional response of suffering, which makes the perception of pain worse. The touch of a pet can shut down the pain-processing centers of the brain. Xolos, hairless canines, are used as pain therapy for people with arthritis and fibromyalgia. These dogs crave cuddling and feel warmer than pets with hair. The heat provides relief from pain by increasing blood circulation and allowing tissues to stretch, resulting in less stiffness and greater flexibility.
Realizing these benefits of owning pets, who WOULDN’T want a pet? However, owning a pet isn’t for everyone. Owning a pet comes with additional work and responsibility, which can be stressful. Yet for most people, the benefits of having a pet outweigh the negative aspects. It is hard to stay in a bad mood when a pair of loving puppy eyes looks up to you when you come home, or when a soft kitty rubs up against your hand. To learn other ways of dealing with stress, simply contact us to schedule an EAP visit.