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Reading at home with pet Jack Russell terrier

How pets can help relieve stress

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The good news for pet owners? Your furry friend is helping reduce your stress. But non-pet-owners can also get in on the benefits.

Pets and stress

Depending on the pet you choose, having one in the family can help keep you physically active, increase how socially connected you feel and improve your overall sense of life satisfaction .

But can pets lower your stress levels? It turns out the answer is ‘yes’. When researchers put the theory to the test again as recently as 2019, they discovered that interacting with cats or dogs produced a significant reduction in levels of a major stress hormone called cortisol. 

Additional research also confirms that people genuinely feel less stressed after spending time with a dog .

Why do pets lower stress levels?

Researchers say the best explanation is because spending time with them encourages the release of oxytocin. While oxytocin (better known as the ‘love hormone’) has been shown to help facilitate bonding , it also works to lower cortisol levels and inhibit the body’s fight-or-flight response, which is naturally triggered by stressful situations.

Play more, stress less

The good news is you can enjoy the stress-buffering effects of pet ownership without actually owning a pet – so there’s no need to make a life-changing impulse purchase if you don’t already have a furry family member!

Keep these 3 things in mind.

1. Playing with a pet for 10 minutes is all it takes

That’s according to a 2019 study in which university students were allowed to spend just 10 minutes with either a cat or a dog: this small amount of time was long enough to reduce their cortisol levels. Other research also confirms that the same time frame is enough to be effective.

2. Getting hands on works best

While watching videos of cute dogs also helps to lower stress levels, it’s physically spending time with them that works best, according to a UK study. And it doesn’t matter what you do when you’re with them – actively playing, sitting quietly and patting the dog, or even just talking to them all works equally well for reducing stress.

3. It doesn’t have to be your pet to enjoy the benefits

If you own a cat or a dog then you’re a step ahead in terms of having a natural stress-busting buddy to hand. But the studies mentioned were conducted using pets that people hadn’t met before, so the benefit isn’t dependent on having a close bond with the animal .

To get your fix, consider volunteering at a local animal shelter, spending time with your friends and family members who own a pet, or offer to walk a neighbour’s dog. While more than one in three Australian households have a dog, 40 per cent of the nation’s pooches aren’t walked frequently enough and a similar amount are carrying too much weight.

Did someone say walkies?