I have had a dog in my life for as long as I can remember. I just can’t imagine not having a dog. My dog just seems to know when I’m out of sorts. Sad, cranky, having a bad day. I just don’t know what I would do without him. Pets are popular companions around the world. From gerbils to cats and dogs to more exotic animals such as geckos, billions of people in many different cultures own one or more pets. And it’s no wonder; animals are not only our stalwart companions but often our best friends. They never leave our side and are there for us with unconditional love no matter what happens. They have other benefits, too; they improve our overall health and reduce our stress levels.

Here are the top three ways pets help reduce stress:

Petting an animal lowers cortisol and blood pressure

Interacting with and petting a cat, dog, or another companion animal for just a few minutes has been shown to reduce the amount of the stress hormone cortisol present in the bloodstream. It’s also been shown to reduce overall blood pressure and blood pressure spikes. The physical act of touching an animal stimulates our bodies to relax. Snuggling with a dog or cat is a top method of stress reduction.

Pets Offer Multiple Mental Health Benefits

Having a pet boosts overall mood and self-esteem. Interacting with an animal regularly encourages the body to produce more of the mood-enhancing endorphins that make us feel better. The unconditional love of a pet promotes a better self-image. Pet ownership has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. It can reduce the severity of other mental illnesses too. Each of these benefits leads directly to lower stress levels.

Animals Reduce Isolation and Increase Social Interactions

People who have pets report feeling less isolated than non-pet owners, even if they live alone and far away from family and friends. This is because having a pet reduces the feeling of being alone and provides constant companionship.

Pets will lead to more social interactions with other people too. Dog owners tend to make new acquaintances while walking their dogs, for example, and they often form friendships based on a mutual love of their dogs.

Likewise, other pet enthusiasts often seek out groups of people dedicated to their pets. There are online and in-person associations of cat lovers, lizard keepers, and even goat owners. If nothing else, pet ownership forces people to interact with vets and pet service providers. These all result in lower stress levels for the pet owner.

These are only the top three ways animals help lower stress levels. There are many more; dogs force their owners to get more exercise by walking them. For example, owning any pet can encourage the owners to eat well and take better care of themselves, so they live longer to be around for their pets. The bottom line is that having an animal is one of the best ways to reduce stress.

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