How Animals Help Us Reduce Pandemic Stress and Make Us Happier

Sharing life with a pet and indulging in a few daily pampering can help lower our stress levels. This has been verified by a study carried out by an American university among a group of students who suffered from this disorder on a recurring basis. The research, the first carried out in a real-life setting rather than in a laboratory, demonstrated significant reductions in the levels of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone,” in students. Next, we delve into this scientific work and others that go along the same lines.

Interacting with animals also makes us happier. The emotional ties established with pets allow us to produce significant amounts of oxytocin, the so-called “happiness hormone”. Japanese researchers have verified how prolonged eye contact between dogs and humans increases the concentration of this hormone in the brain. All these benefits make animals perfect companions for life. But we must not forget that they are living beings: we must treat them with respect, take care of them and protect them.

Pets against depression and anxiety

For many people, the pandemic has been a true litmus test to measure how far they were able to go in extreme situations and social isolation. According to a study carried out by the University of Ottawa (Canada) published in the scientific journal Psychiatry Research , the health situation experienced during the past year increased insomnia by 24%, post-traumatic stress by 22%, depression by 16% and 15 % the anxiety.

Sharing life with a four-legged companion has been a lifeline for many people to better cope with this atypical and difficult health situation. The affection and care that animals demand (and utter) is of great help to control the most harmful emotions and enhance the positive ones.

A work from the University of Washington (WSU) ensures that just spending 10 minutes a day petting a dog or cat our stress levels are significantly reduced. Looking a dog in the eye also makes us happier, according to research from Azabu University in Japan. The Royal Canine Society of Spain (RSCE) ensures that pets generate great benefits, especially to those people who live alone or who have seen their mobility reduced due to the health crisis. But, yes, from the institution they remember that they are living beings that must be respected and cared for.

Company and caresses to combat stress

The study carried out by the University of Washington aimed to verify how interacting with animals served to reduce stress levels among people who suffered from this physiological reaction. The research involved 249 university students divided into four groups. The first one was immediately related and free will with dogs and cats for 10 minutes. The second had to wait his turn, contemplating during the waiting time images of people stroking animals. The third viewed photos of the pets that he was going to touch when the time came. The fourth group remained silent, unable to use any external distraction device – such as a book or a mobile phone – but were told that they would soon interact with the animals.

During three months the students had to undergo several samples of salivary cortisol. After analyzing the data, the researchers found a very significant decrease in this hormone in those who came into direct contact with pets. This finding confirmed that feeling positive emotions could have relevant benefits for physical and mental health.

According to Patricia Pendry, Associate Professor in the WSU Department of Human Development, the purpose of this work was “to learn if this exposure could help students reduce their stress level in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting because reducing stress hormones can, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health. Just 10 minutes a day can have a significant impact.”

More happiness with just one look

Is it possible to make someone fall in love just by looking into their eyes? The University of Azabu assures that it is and that dogs are great experts in this matter. In their experiment, published in the journal Science , the scientists found that eye contact between humans and dogs increased blood levels of oxytocin. “The results suggest that humans show similar affection for their peers as they do for their family,” say the researchers.

Thirty dogs of different breeds and their respective owners participated in the trial. The researchers measured oxytocin levels (using a blood test) in people before and after interacting with the animal. In all cases, they verified that these were higher after interacting with the dogs: they observed higher concentrations in those who had been in visual contact for a longer time.

Dogs, the best company to cope with the pandemic

Animals have proven to be excellent fatigue companions during the pandemic, cheering up and de-stressing the people they lived with. 

Scientific evidence showed itself in real life. Unfortunately, when the de-escalation of May arrived, dropouts increased by 25% compared to figures registered in previous years. Again in the autumn, requests for dogs soared, a circumstance that has been repeated cyclically as the different waves of the pandemic followed.

Animals are not a simple hobby and that incorporating them into our lives requires assuming the commitment to respect them . “We must take care of them and love them as one more member of the family, one who also knows how to always accompany us in bad times”.

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