Wednesday 3 November 2021 marks National Stress Awareness Day, which seeks to raise awareness of the negative effects that stress can have on our health.
In our latest blog, we explore the benefits of pet ownership on both reducing stress and the improvement they can bring to mental health.
It is no secret that stress can be damaging to both our health and wellbeing. According to a report by the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of us felt so stressed that we felt that we were unable to cope.
Stress can be defined as the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure. When we are stressed, our bodies release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in what is known as a ‘fight or flight’ response. The release of these hormones normally returns to reduced levels once the pressure or threat has passed.
Stress, interestingly, can, at times, be useful. It can be a motivator that can push us to take action and complete tasks. However, too much stress can affect mood, body and mind.
Most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond.
Pets have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behaviour and emotions.
Dogs, for example, are able to understand many of the words we use, but they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling (and to work out when the next walk or treat might be coming, of course).
Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps most importantly, though, a pet can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.
Of course, one must also consider the responsibility that comes with owning pets, the time and attention they require, and the costs involved with pet ownership. Whilst the owning of a pet can be seen as helping to make healthy lifestyle changes, we must also remember that getting a pet does change your social activity and lifestyle.
For more information on how to reduce stress, this useful guide by the NHS may be of interest: 10 Stress Busters.