Interacting with pets for 10 mins showed a significant drop in stress hormones among subjects of a US study
Humans are exposed to stress at every stage of their lives. Stress is central to the survival of any animal. The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety.
While acute stress is important and helps keep us going in life-threatening situations, chronic stress in day-to-day life can cause some serious damage to your mental and physical health.
According to the American Institute of Stress, “Stress damages your heart because stress hormones increase your heart rate and constrict your blood vessels. This forces your heart to work harder, and increases your blood pressure. The incidence rate of heart attacks and sudden death increases after major stress inducing incidents like hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.”
Stress not only affects adults but according to a research conducted at John Hopkins University, “Children exposed to chronic stress are more likely to develop a mental illness if they are genetically predisposed. Stress has also been linked to illnesses that include cancer, lung disease, fatal accidents, suicide, and cirrhosis of the liver.”
How is Chronic Stress Making You Sick?
While experiencing stress, your adrenaline gland releases a surge of hormones, including Adrenaline and Cortisol. While Adrenaline boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. High Cortisol also alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This helps humans tackle the dangerous situation by being alert and active.
However, long-term activation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to Cortisol and other stress hormones that follows can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of many physical and mental health problems.
Pets May Help Reduce Cortisol Level
In a study recently published in the journal AERA Open, Patricia Pendry and Jaymie Vandagriff of Washington State University found that participants who pet the animals had lower salivary cortisol levels than those who didn’t.
In their research, 249 college students were randomly divided into four groups. The first group received hands-on interaction in small groups with cats and dogs for 10 minutes. The second group observed other people petting animals while they waited in line for their turn. The third group watched a slideshow of the same animals available during the intervention, while the fourth group was “wait listed.”
Salivary cortisol samples were collected from each participant before and after their interaction with the animals. Those who interacted directly with the pets in comparison to the other three groups showed significantly less Cortisol in their saliva after the interaction.
Patricia Pendry on the positive results of the test stated, “What we wanted to learn was whether this exposure would help students reduce their stress in a less subjective way. And it did, which is exciting because the reduction of stress hormones may, over time, have significant benefits for physical and mental health.”
Now Pendry and her team are continuing this work by examining the impact of a four-week-long animal-assisted stress prevention programme.