My animals have always been a source of companionship and comfort to me, during good times as well as bad. During these very difficult times at present, we can remember to pull positive reinforcement and strength from our furkids, who are always happily there for us. There are many ways that our pets can reduce our stress.
Remember when I talked about the loss of my brother? His passing was sudden and tragic. I was consumed with sorrow. Toby was six months old at the time, blissfully unaware of the family loss that we struggled to cope with. Watching Toby’s daily joy at the world around him would make me smile in spite of myself. I had to get up and go out so he could relieve himself, although I wanted to climb into bed, pull the cover over my head, and stay there. Toby helped me through a most difficult time.
Making the best of the situation at hand
My co-worker Krista has been unable to visit her mother in the nursing home. So one day, she put the harness and leash on her cat (obviously her cat had been previously introduced to both) and went to the window outside of her mother’s room. Krista’s mother was so delighted at the outdoor visit from Krista and her cat that she burst into tears. Sad that Krista is unable to enter the facility right now, but we must accept what is and act accordingly. Krista made the most of the situation and resolved it the best way she safely could.
Tap into your pet’s energy
Listed below are eight ways in which our pets can reduce our stress levels. Let’s all tap into their wonderful energy and make the most of it during these trying times.
1. Just being around an animal decreases your blood pressure, which is one physical measure of stress. Tests have indicated that petting a dog or cat lowers a person’s blood pressure reading; this has been found to be true with other animals as well. In fact, you don’t even need to touch them. Just looking is enough: Watching fish in an aquarium has the same effect.
2. Our pets decrease our reactions to stressful situations. One study showed that subjects asked to do a mental arithmetic task in front of their pets showed smaller increases in blood pressure and heart rate, in contrast to doing it in front of their spouse, which made it more stressful. Of course, since animals are non-judgmental! So if your dentist has a fish tank in his waiting room, watching fish beforehand reduces the stress of undergoing dental procedures. Hear that, Dr. Miller?
3. Pet owners on average get more exercise, especially dog owners. People have been suggesting exercise as a way of dealing with stress and depression for a long time, and there’s good data that dog owners walk more often and take longer walks. We are currently practicing social distancing, but you can still find a quiet, less heavily traveled area to walk. Your feeling of responsibility toward your dog is often more motivating than a trip to the gym. We do not have the option of going to the gym right now, so walks with your dog is an ideal solution … as I previously mentioned, in a quiet, less traveled area.
4. People with pets are less likely to say they feel loneliness, which is one common source of stress. This is both because animals provide companionship and because they encourage friendly interactions with other people. People are much more relaxed and approachable when they can talk about their dog. For now, enjoy the one-on-one time with your dog. Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, we can once again have closer interactions with fellow dog lovers. For now, be safe.
5. Pets help you be in the moment. Stress is really regretting the past and worrying about the future. Animals live in the present. So keeping your attention on the present can help reduce stress, and whether it’s a calming walk, as long as you put down that phone, or a vigorous game of fetch, interacting with your pet keeps your focus on the now. At the present time, I admittedly have spent much of my time worrying, as have many others. We need to try to calm our fears naturally, through exercise and lessons learned from our pets, loving and embracing them.
6. Pets lower stress by fulfilling our need for touch, which we find comforting. And what’s more, they feel the same way about it. If you’re grooming a horse, not only will you experience the relaxation response, but put your hand on the horse and you’ll feel its heart rate slow down. Same when you pet your dog: There’s a certain excitement at first, but then its heart rate goes down. Smudge will fall into a deep sleep lying on my chest as I softly massage his ears.
7. Pets seem to help support feelings that make you more resilient at dealing with stress. One study showed that pet owners had better self-esteem and tended to be less lonely, less fearful, less depressed and less preoccupied than people without pets, and that all of these qualities correlated with feeling less stress. This help with long-term stress management may be why some studies have shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure on average than non-owners.
8. Finally, they make us laugh! “We find humor watching them, and laughter is another way of eliminating stress. My friend Judy recently acquired a French Bulldog puppy. She routinely puts videos on Facebook of Greta, and how I love watching them. This little imp is just adorable!
Watch the animals, and relax
If you are inside and want to do some relaxing, the San Diego Zoo (and others) are offering videos of the animals to watch.
The other morning, it was a penguin closely observing all of the swimming fish in the tank. His fascination made me laugh out loud.
Reach out to your friends on Facebook and ask them to post pictures and videos of their pets while they are self-isolating. Not only is it fun to watch, but it is a wonderful way for you to communicate with your like-minded friends since we cannot do it in person right now. Skype has never been more appreciated than it is during the pandemic.
Our interactions with our pets are so similar to our interactions with other people. You feel less stress in the company of a trusted friend, and we view our companion animals as trusted friends. Always loving us, always there for us, and always believing in us.
Please stay safe and follow all guidelines. See you next week.
Pet expo rescheduled
The SPCA Pet Expo has been rescheduled to Oct. 10 – 11.
Resource: Linda Lombardi/Vetstreet.com
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org