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Pet your stress away

A puppy sitting in a bowl of food with kibble scattered on the floor.

A cat's paw raised in the air. Text reads: Who's my little stress reliever?

Aug. 7, 2019— Need a stress break? Try spending a few minutes with a pet. You won't just feel happier and less tense around Coco or Cookie. The stress hormone levels in your body may actually fall, a new study suggests.

For the study, researchers divided 249 college students into four groups. One group was asked to pet, play or just hang out with cats and dogs for 10 minutes. The other participants either watched these students interact with the animals, viewed a slideshow of the pets or waited quietly for their own chance to pal around with a pet.

From each student, the researchers collected several saliva samples before and after the interaction, which they used to measure levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Our bodies naturally produce cortisol. It has several functions, including helping us respond to stress. But too much cortisol production can be problematic.

The study found that, compared to the control groups, the students who interacted directly with a pet had a sizeable drop in cortisol levels after being around a dog or a cat for just 10 minutes.

Since cortisol is a measure of stress, this study doesn't merely show what many of us already know—that pets can have a calming, mood-lifting effect. It shows that interacting with a pet, even briefly, may actually reduce the body's physical response to stress.

The study appeared in the journal AERA Open.

Can't have a permanent pet?

You can benefit from a pet without owning one. If you can't permanently adopt a pet, you might still be able to provide a temporary foster home for one. Or you might offer to walk a neighbor's dog or volunteer at an animal shelter. Some shelters even rent out cats and dogs for walks or fun.

Feeling frazzled?

Learn more about stress, its effects on your health and what you can do about it.

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