International Stress Awareness Week - how our pets help

Stress levels and mental health issues in the UK are on the rise. The Mental Health Foundation 2018 survey found, in that year, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope. And that statistic doesn’t take into account the added worry of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stress causes emotional, behavioural and physical issues and it affects everyone differently. There is no ‘one size fits all’ way to manage stress so it is down to each individual to find out what helps them and makes them feel better. Stress can lead to mental health problems, so it is important to find ways to keep stress levels down.

One of the ways to help manage stress or mental health is to spend time with pets. It has been recognised that good mental health and pet ownership are such a good combination that some pets are specifically trained to be ‘therapy animals’. Visits from animals in nursing homes, hospitals and schools have shown to ‘remarkably improve’ the levels of stress felt by those they visit.

A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality proved that having pets close to you or even just thinking about pets, lowers stress levels.

So, how can pets help with stress levels?

  • Pets can increase self-esteem as they can help a person feel needed and loved. Pet owners tend to exhibit fewer signs of fear and are not as preoccupied with their own problems. 

  • They can make us laugh! What pet owner hasn’t laughed when watching their pet having fun? When we laugh, stress levels drop as our bodies release feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and physical tension in muscles is relieved.

  • They fill the human need for touch and contact. As tactile creatures, humans benefit from physical touch. It boosts the immune system, decreases anger and reduces stress. Stroking or cuddling a pet works just as well as a hug from a fellow human.

  • They give unconditional love, friendship and company, reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Just having a pet for company can help with stress. Whilst a person may feel a little crazy talking to their cat, it is sometimes easier to tell a pet how you feel when it’s just too hard to tell another person.

  • Pets encourage activity, whether it is a good dog walk or just getting up and about to feed and clean out chickens or rabbits. Physical activity is one of the most important things that helps to manage stress and mental health problems. Walking also leads to better cardiovascular health.

  • Our pets lower our blood pressure. Many studies have shown that stroking a pet or even just being in the presence of an animal helps to lower blood pressure. And not only does it lower the owner’s blood pressure, it is also thought to do the same for the pet being stroked!

 

It doesn’t matter whether the pet is a horse, dog, cat, hamster, budgie or goldfish, the end result is that good mental health and pets go together. If you would like to know more about stress and how to manage it, you can find lots of information at www.stress.org.uk or www.mind.org.uk