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Can Pets Really Help When You’re Feeling Under Pressure?

If you’re a pet-owner, you probably already know that spending time with your beloved Fido, Tiddles or Flopsy bunny can be an excellent natural anxiety remedy when you are feeling upset or under pressure.

Very few humans will greet you with the same unbounded levels of unconditional love and enthusiasm that you get from a dog or cat when you come home at the end of the day.

But can having a pet actually help to reduce stress or mild depression?

There are a number of studies that show that spending time with a pet – particularly cats and dogs – can help to ease anxiety or depression, and even help to improve your physical health.

The first research on pets and mental health was carried out by Psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania in the nineteen eighties.

They measured what happens when someone pets a friendly dog that they know. The study found that the person’s blood pressure dropped, their breathing became more regular, their heart-rate dropped and their muscles relaxed – all of which indicate a reduction in stress levels.

How A Pet Can Help Reduce Stress

Here are the six top ways that spending time with a pet can offer a natural anxiety remedy:

1. Boosts your feel-good hormones (and reduces the stress-induced ones)

Stroking or cuddling a pet triggers the release of serotonin, the body’s feelgood hormone, and oxytocin, which helps to reduce stress. Spending time with a loved pet will also lower your levels of cortisol, helping to make you feel calmer and less stressed.

2. Gives you a reason to get up

If, like many of us, you struggle to get going on a grey day – especially if you are feeling low – having to get up to feed your cat or walk a dog can prove enormously beneficial.

Even if you are sorely tempted to throw the duvet back over your head and stay in bed, a four-legged friend won’t allow it! Having to get up to care for a pet means you are far more likely to start your morning on a positive note, giving you more resilience to cope with whatever the day ahead has in store for you.

3. Gets you out in the open air

Having a reason to go out in the fresh air makes you feel productive and means you will have achieved something, no matter how the rest of your day goes.  It’s also a great way of organising your thoughts. When life feels overwhelming, being outside and walking can help to get things back into perspective .

4. Gives you something to think about, other than your own problems

Watching how an animal takes interest in the small things in life – a squirrel up a tree, a bird in the garden or a beam of dancing light on the wall – is a great reminder of how we as humans can take pleasure from things that happen everyday too.

Many people who suffer from stress or anxiety say that they spend too much time ‘inside their own heads’. Spending time focusing on feeding, grooming or exercising a pet can provide a way to break this cycle by providing an external focus.

5. Provides a no-pressure way to chat with other people

For many people with mild anxiety or depression, social situations can add to feelings of stress and worry. Many dog-owners report that the low-key conversations that often occur on a dog-walk, or whilst taking part in animal-related activities, offer social interaction with much less pressure. Just saying ‘hi’ and smiling at another pet-owner can help to lift your mood, without having to sustain a conversation for an extended period.

6. Boosts your physical health

When we feel anxious or stressed, it’s very natural to want to hide away and stay indoors. However, as the website of the mental health charity MIND explains, being physically active is linked to a range of benefits which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Even low levels of regular physical exercise can help improve sleep, boost your mood and increase energy levels. This means that you are better equipped to manage stress, anxiety or intrusive or racing thoughts by giving your brain something to focus on in difficult times.

Another study in Sweden looked at the health of dog-owning and non dog-owning people between the ages of 40 and 80 over a period of 12 years. The study found that for people who lived alone, owning a dog can decrease their risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36%, compared to single people without a pet. The chances of having a heart attack were also 11% lower.

If your lifestyle means a dog or cat are not an option, don’t worry! An American study on pets and mental health in 2006 found that a group of elderly people who were given a cageful of crickets to look after for eight weeks became less depressed than a control group with nothing to care for. The researchers concluded that the act of looking after a living creature – even crickets! – provided noticeable benefits to peoples’ mental health.

Natural Herbal Remedy for Anxiety

Even with the support of the most loving pet, sometimes we all need a helping hand to break out of a cycle of anxiety or a short-term bout of mild depression. This is where a fully-licensed natural anxiety remedy such as HRI St John’s Wort can help. St John’s Wort is a herbal medicine that has been used for centuries to relieve the symptoms of mild depression and anxiety.

HRI Good Mood™ St John’s Wort provides the strongest daily dose available on the UK market in just two tablets, offering a simple way to help relieve the symptoms of slightly low mood and mild anxiety, based on traditional use.

HRI Good Mood is licensed by the UK regulator under the Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) scheme herbal medicine (Licence Number THR 02231/0002). Always read the patient information leaflet to check for possible contraindications with any medication you are already taking. NB St John’s Wort is not recommended if you are taking the contraceptive pill or HRT as it can stop them working.