• Dr. Sharon Livingston

The Therapeutic Power of Pets

There is a dynamic relationship between people and pets. Each one influences both the physiological and psychological state of the other. In the presence of animals, people seem healthier and happier and actually experience improved health benefits: lower blood pressure, less anxiety and a general sense of feeling good about themselves. In fact, pets can add to longevity. Grieving elderly widows and widowers left with pets survive years longer than their counterparts without pets.

Animals are a natural source of genuine affection. They create an emotionally safe, non-threatening environment that can encourage people to open up. In the presence of friendly pets, people relax and calm down. They forget about their worries, loneliness, sadness, pain and fear. They laugh and feel moments of unselfconscious joy. They feel freer to be themselves.

Chronic stress is a gateway to physical as well as mental health problems. Pets provide important benefits to anyone who lives with stress and anxiety.

How Dogs Reduce Anxiety in Humans

Numerous studies show that pets are not only good for our minds but also good for our bodies. For instance, just the simple act of petting a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure several points. People can reap the benefits of touch by petting a dog or cat, but it’s especially important for people who are elderly or live alone. Having a pet can improve overall mood and health and help reduce fearfulness and feelings of worry and isolation, which are contributors to stress.

Dogs relieve stress in humans in a variety of ways. While many of us hate the thought of getting up and going to the gym, we’re not quite so reluctant to get up, go outside and take a walk with the dog. Not only do we get the benefit of exercise and fresh air, walking the dog can even help us meet new friends or even potential partners – another mood booster!

Friendly pets lower anxiety to help people relax, provide comfort, reduce loneliness, increase mental stimulation, and provide an escape or happy distraction.

Can cats help reduce stress? Yes, for all the same reasons that dogs do.

You might be surprised to learn that cats and dogs also help boost our immune systems. Studies show that children in homes with pets are less likely to develop allergies, so disregard all the old wives’ tales. Early exposure to pets and pet dander – this especially applies to cats – can reduce a child’s risk for developing allergies by up to 80 percent!

Pet Therapy

Animal therapy for stress is becoming more common every day. Pets reduce anxiety and help relieve feelings of loneliness, which is why more hospitals, nursing homes, schools, rehabilitation centers, and even prisons are incorporating animal-assisted therapy programs into their organizations.

The simple act of petting has been proven to provide people with multiple mental and physical health benefits. When we pet animals, hormones such as serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, which play a role in elevating moods, are released in the brain.

According to a 2012 study, published in Frontiers of Psychology, human-animal interactions are thought to activate the oxytocin system. Oxytocin helps regulate the social bonding process. It is the reason that a baby’s gaze fills a new mother with joy; and, it turns out, it’s also the reason a loving look from your pup gives you warm and fuzzy feelings.

Why is a friendly dog presence stress-reducing? For one, it is believed by researchers that an approachable dog plays the role of an attachment figure to convey security and safety. Other research suggests that the presence of pets help ease and encourage human interaction for both children and adults. People actually are likely to get along better with each other when there are sociable animals present.

Many studies that prove the positive outcomes of interactions with dogs and cats are reported here. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/table/T1/?report=objectonly

Because of these benefits, 20 percent of American businesses allow their staff to bring companion animals along with them to work.

Corporations who encourage pets have

  • · An increased willingness to work longer

  • · A decrease in absenteeism

  • · Improved relationships with co-workers

  • · An environment that fosters creativity

  • · Higher productivity

Pets helps you focus outside of yourself, instead of whirring with anxiety when dealing with external or internal stressors. People become calmer, more able to relate to others, family members, bosses, clients, customers.

To learn more interesting tips on reducing stress and anxiety without medication, go to www.SharonLivingstonPhD.com. And if you’d like to talk, please contact me 603-505-5000 or DrSharonLivingston@gmail.com