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How spending time with pets can help you cope with stress

Nothing comes close to the feeling of having a loyal companion by your side to share your joys and grief with. Their unconditional love can do wonders for your overall wellbeing. What’s more, they are a blessing for your mental health by helping you cope with stress. We’re not talking about a loving partner or a trusted friend.

We are talking about pets—the adorable companion animals who can instantly boost your mood and bring a smile to your face with their undying enthusiasm and playfulness. Petting and playing with your dog or cat raises your levels of serotonin and dopamine, thus improving your emotional state no matter how miserable or stressed out you’re feeling.

However, your pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Birds encourage social interaction and help keep your mind sharp while watching fish in an aquarium can induce calmness and reduce hypertension.

Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic and the lockdown stress, more and more people are turning to their pets for joy and comfort. Indeed, there is something therapeutic about the human-animal bond that makes us feel less lonely and anxious.

Here’s how pets can help you cope with stress and boost your mental health.

You become physically active

Taking your dog for a walk, playing catch, or simply running around with your cat within the confines of your home are fun and rewarding ways to stay fit and cope with stress. A recent study found that regular dog walkers are less likely to be obese than those who didn’t walk a dog. Having a pet is a lot of work, no matter what species you bring home. Be it a bird, dog, rabbit or cat—the daily rituals of feeding, play-time and grooming encourage exercise and give you a natural energy boost. Physical activity pumps up your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, resulting in lower stress levels.

You feel less lonely

Having a pet means having a steady best friend and motivator. While some animals interact more than others, just their presence can brighten up your day and make you feel less lonely. Caring for them gives you a sense of purpose and helps take away the focus from your problems. This is especially true in the current pandemic situation with stay-at-home orders confining us to our homes.

Animals are great listeners too. According to research conducted by the University of Melbourne, around 50% of adults and 70% of adolescents who own a pet regularly confide in them. So, when you have a pet, you’ll always have someone to talk to. Nothing beats the feeling of loneliness and the resulting stress like a wagging tail or a soothing purr.

You connect better with people

“Oh, he’s adorable. Do you mind if I pet him?” Most pet owners are familiar with these words and can attest to the fact that their pets make for great conversation starters. Pets can ease you into conversations if socialising isn’t your forte. Pets are especially great companions for people with social anxiety and can open doors to some wonderful relationships in ways never expected. Pets naturally attract attention and create the perfect chance for human connections. They give you something to focus on and talk about when you’re not sure what else to say. By becoming more social and connecting with new people, you can keep your stress levels at bay and improve your overall wellbeing.

You start living in the moment

Do you ever look at your pet and wonder what they are thinking? Surely, they are not thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. Animals live in the present and take each moment as it comes. With a pet around, it is difficult to get lost in your own thoughts with them jumping around you, begging for attention. Such pleasant distractions help bring your mind back to the present rather than becoming overly preoccupied with negative and stressful thoughts. Spending time with your pet while observing their habits and behaviour helps you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of living in the present.

You find unconditional love

If you have a pet, you know how much better you feel after snuggling and playing with them after a long day. The animals you share your life with are non-judgemental and will faithfully love you without condition. They are just happy to see you and be around you. Your pets, especially dogs, can typically sense when you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, and will often give you extra attention and love when you need it the most. The unconditional love and support of your pets can help you cope with stress while healing your mood and emotions.

You get an instant mood boost

Just looking at your pet for a few minutes can make you happier and boost your mood. Studies have shown that when you make eye contact with your pet, your body releases oxytocin or the ‘happy hormone’. Petting and stroking your pet lowers your blood pressure and cortisol levels, thereby making you feel calm and less stressed. Also, observing your pet’s cute antics such as rolling on their back or putting their paw on your arm can help you relax and unwind with your pooch or feline friend.

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