If you’re a pet owner, then you know that cuddling with your dog or cat gives you all the feels. It can also lower stress, according to a new study published by the American Educational Research Association.
Researchers at Washington State University found that petting and playing with a dog or cat for just 10 minutes significantly lowered cortisol (the stress hormone).
As part of the study, 249 college students were divided into four groups. The first group got to interact directly with dogs and cats for 10 minutes. The second group got to observe others petting the animals, while the third group watched a slideshow of the same animals. The fourth group was “waitlisted” and told to wait quietly for their turn.
The researchers collected a number of salivary samples from each student, starting in the morning when they woke up. The students who had direct contact with the dogs and cats showed significantly less cortisol in their saliva after the interaction.
“We already knew that students enjoy interacting with animals, and that it helps them experience more positive emotions,” says lead author Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “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.”
Pendry and her team are conducting further research, looking at the impact of a four-week-long animal-assisted stress prevention program.
If you’re looking for other ways to ease stress, check out this definitive guide to stress management.