How Animals Bring Comfort during Times of Stress

By: Amy Morrison

With COVID-19 keeping us all inside for much of our day, the effects of loneliness and boredom are being studied by scientists more than ever. Many studies have been done even before the quarantine discussing the consequences of being alone or with the same people for extended periods of time. In this context, the consequences are even more extreme due to how long we’ve all been stuck in our houses. While we can go outside, it is limited and many places aren’t open so we don’t get as much exposure as we should. But there are other studies that have proven that we can stay at home with only one or multiple other living things to keep us company and improve our mental health. Those living things being: our pets.

Many people already know that their pets are helpful when it comes to having a friend or needing comfort but, there is proven science to back it up. The University of Utah conducted a study recently that showed the way dogs and their presence have an effect on us. The presence of a dog proved to lead to increased levels of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine, which respectively are known as the cuddle hormones, the happy chemicals, and the feel-good neurotransmitters, in the brain. Their presence can also lead to significantly lower feelings of distress and nervousness. That’s just by being near a dog! Even just touching a pet can help soothe and calm someone. It is also not uncommon for people to report their pets coming to comfort them when they’re crying. This is because, according to helpguide.org, they can interpret our tones, words, body language, and gestures. They can understand when humans are upset and have the desire to comfort us. Helpguide.org also states that some other benefits of owning a pet include: lower levels of depression, anxiety, stress, and relief from symptoms of PTSD. Pets can truly be man’s best friend, emotionally and chemically.  They can actually lower one’s cardiovascular responses the same way being with friends can lower those responses with pets even lowering them even more. 

Moreover, pets can also help their owners physically and relationally. When one gets a pet they require a whole new schedule to match the needs of the new living creature in their home. With dogs, walking them every day or taking them to a dog park becomes a part of a very steady routine. Other than the obvious physical benefits of walking your dog every day, taking them to a dog park or just out can also help you relationally. Having a dog gives you something in common with a whole new group of people and going to the dog park gives you a chance to socialize with other people who potentially relate to the same things as you. 

Besides the exercise you get from just walking your dog or other pet, there are a plethora of other physical benefits from owning a pet. Helpguide.org found that people with pets have been shown to have less indicators of heart disease and lower blood pressure. In fact, people with high blood pressure who adopt dogs saw lowered blood pressure within 5 months. People who suffer from heart attacks and also owned pets were shown to live longer with pet owners over the age of 65 going to the doctor’s 30% less than those without pets. Pets can also be amazing companions to children and benefit them in different ways by providing a sense of security, the feeling of being loved and increasing social skills. 

Obviously there are many different ways to bring comfort to one’s life with pets being a very effective method. They don’t judge in dividuals, they’re there for their humans in your darkest times, and even if one can’t see the effect they have on someone’s physical, chemical, or emotional well-being it’s there. Pets will always be there for you and that’s an extremely important bond to hold on to, especially in pressing times like these.