If any of you follow me on social media, you might notice I often post photos of me with a dog—not always the same dog, but a dog.
You see, I love to borrow other people’s dogs. I would love to share my home with a dog, of course, but my life is too much on the road to make this possible. So instead, I borrow dogs, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes hours and if I am lucky, a few days or weeks when a friend needs to travel.
And it never fails. Each time I pet said dog, I can feel my oxytocin levels fly off the roof, my general sense of wellbeing improve and a sense of comfort, lightness and hope alight. Of course, I am well aware that having a pet or otherwise enjoying the company of animals is good for one’s health, so aside from the fact that I love dogs, I also have the ulterior motive of looking to improve my health.
Indeed, having a pet has been scientifically shown to improve physical, mental and emotional health, even decreasing your risk of having a heart attack.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the health benefits of pets include decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, feelings of loneliness, and can improve your opportunities to socialize, as well as exercise and be outdoors. http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/
What’s more, is that studies are showing that pets do lower your stress levels. A study at the University of New York at Buffalo that people experienced less stress when their pets were with them versus their spouse, family member or close friend. Other studies have shown that the presence of a pet can lower pain levels, while other studies show that mood is improved.
It is likely that a major contributor to why pets offer such health benefits is that loving or enjoy the company of your pet raises oxytocin levels.
Oxytocin is an amino acid hormone, produced in the brain. It calms the mind and body. It can act as a pain reliever, help wounds heal and act an antidote to stress hormones, reducing anxiety and stimulating instead, positive emotions and actions.
Not only has it been found that oxytocin turns off the stress response, but it also disassociates negative emotions from negative circumstances. In other words, if you were upset or angry with a friend and then someone gave you some oxytocin to inhale, you would feel less emotionally charged and care less about whatever transpired.
Of course, you can raise your oxytocin levels by gazing into the eyes of someone you love, hugging, or through sexual intimacy. But there is something about gazing into a loving pet’s eyes or simply having them rest their paw or nose on your lap that creates a sense of well being that is quite special.
So, for what it is worth, this is what I recommend for you:
1. If you do not have a pet, borrow one (this can include taking a few moments to pet a stranger’s pet, if they let you).
2. Gaze into the eyes of said pet for a minute or so and notice how you feel.
3. Take some time to dispense of your worries and thoughts and watch your or someone else’s pet and how they are completely in the present moment, totally excited, totally bored, totally tired, totally hungry.
4. Notice the smile that creeps up on your face and keep it there for the rest of the day.