We've all heard that just scratching a pet can relieve stress—but why?
If you research this subject in the scientific journals you will find many experts basically saying “Mumbo Jumbo, jumbo, mumbo.” If you want to get to the root of the question, just ask your cat or your dog. You may not understand what they say but I guarantee you’ll feel much better for asking.
It’s a Fact
It must be true about pets being stress relievers because I saw several articles that start with “Studies show that…” Anytime they say “Studies show that…” then that means that someone way smarter than me, or at least someone who was getting paid, did some research. Just Google “Why pets relieve stress” and you’ll get about 597,000 results in 0.65 seconds. I’m not sure why it tells me about the “0.65 seconds,” but that’s a lot of results.
Okay, let’s get this out the way right away. Studies show that playing with or petting an animal can decrease stress. Now I’m sure they mean your pet and not just any animal because, come on, playing with a wild skunk might not be the same kind of stress reliever as playing with your cat. I’m thinking if their study is so thorough they would make that distinction clear, but I digress. Playing with your pet is said to increase levels of the hormone oxytocin. Studies also show that playing with your pet will decrease cortisol which, once again studies show is a stress hormone.
In Plainer Terms
I may have to change my “studies show that…” to “a bunch of internet sites say that…” so I don’t sound too pretentious. Several sites mention that pet owners have increased odds of surviving longer after having heart attacks, people who lose a spouse get along better with a pet, and Alzheimer’s patients respond better with animal-assisted activities. Those are some pretty good examples of “stress relievers.”
More Mumbo Jumbo
Science.Howstuffworks.com claims that simply watching a fish tank for 30 minutes lowers blood pressure. Now, I’m not exactly sure how they got someone to watch a fish tank for a whole 30 minutes, but it must have been during one of those “Studies” they keep talking about. They also say that the added responsibilities of having a pet can be too much stress for some folks and may “exacerbate their anxiety.”
It is What It is
Those of us who have pets know what a great stress reliever they are. We really don’t need all that scientific “Studies show that…” stuff to know this. All we have to do is come home from a hard day’s work and have our dog or cat jump in our lap to feel the stress wash away. Spend some time tossing a ball with your dog or at your cat—because let’s face it: she’s not bringing it back—and you’ll feel it too. Whether you are nine or ninety, it doesn’t matter; having a pet makes life’s stressful situations roll off your back. Heck, studies show that.
Michael Ryan is a full-time musician along with a humor, travel and outdoor recreation columnist. He's also an avid skier and golfer and has traveled extensively around the U.S, the Caribbean and Europe. His musical career takes him all over the U.S. and his wife drags him everywhere else. His weekly columns “The Life of Ryan” ran in the Transcript and Sentinel newspaper chain for several years and have been featured in the Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News and Mile High Magazine. He is the co-founder, editor and humor columnist for ColoradoLocalLegends.com and currently resides in Morrison, Colorado.