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Effects of Animal Ownership on Stress

By desire6882 Jul 24, 2013 887 Words
The Effect of Animal Ownership on Stress
The ability to deal with stress is important if only for health-related reasons. Stress causes many illnesses and complications. Individuals differ greatly in this respect. What they perceive as a source of stress and how they react to the intensity of it also seems to be an individual trait. Stressful life events can contribute to much higher utilization rates that intertwine with psychological distress (Rahe & Arthur, 1978). Physical and mental stress can increase a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety levels (Wilson, 1991). Researchers have looked for reasons behind stress and health related issues for decades and found many different correlations. Therfore, it would be reasonable to look for circumstances that promote well-being or reduce stress to minimize the need for physician visits and one such circumstance is an animal ownership (Soares, 1985). A relationship between human and non-human animals has existed in one form or another over hundreds of thousands of years, and more recently this amazing relationship has been transformed where human beings have began to keep these animals, that they so admire and want to be around with, as pets or even family members (Young, 1985). Animals as pets provide not only companionship but also aid to health and relaxation as well as nonjudgmental acceptance and love (Soares, 1985). Some studies demonstrate that being a pet owner with a good human-animal attachment tends to lower blood pressure, provide social support, and significantly reduce stress (Davis, 1991). The human-animal bond or pet attachment and its influences on our well-being have been widely studied in many different forms and in relation to several disease outcomes. Friedmann, Locker and Lockwood (1993) found heart rate and blood pressure, while reading and resting, was much lower in children, when an unfamiliar dog entered the room than when the dog was not present in the room. In addition, Friedmann, Katcher, Lynch and Thomas (1980) researched a one-year survival rate after discharge from a coronary care unit and found that survival rate was much higher for those patients who were pet owners. His study emphasized the importance of social support in persons’ well being, and the consequences of increased stress and even depression when such support is not present. Animal interactions, such as pet ownership and attachment, can help relieve stress and decrease the feeling of anxiety, depression as well as emotional distress (Garrity, Stallones, Marx & Johnson, 1989). A person who is undergoing stress may concentrate more on bodily symptoms and even find them more disturbing (Mechanic, 1972), therefore it is important to search for situations that relieve stress and buffer people against the impact of stressful life events. Moreover, elderly people reported a decrease in depressive symptoms after forming emotional attachment to companion animals (Garrity et al., 1989). The above mentioned data on human-animal bond might play a beneficial role in times of stress. Research done by Garrity et al. (1989) found that greater attachment to one’s pet was associated with better mental and physical health when human companionship was inadequate. Studies also show that animals can ease anxiety in stressful situations on both emotional and behavioral level (Katcher, Segal & Beck, 1984). In summary, this study demonstrates that the presence of a companion animal has an impact on stress experienced by the participants in their every day life. Therefore, the results of the study provide strong evidence for the role of pets in providing a stress relief. Based on the findings the hypothesis stated was supported and it is possible that animal ownership has a significant influence on the experience of a lower stress and therefore is beneficial to human health. Research on the social meaning of pets suggests that they serve at least three major functions, such as a surrogate function for people without friends, mates or children, as a self-expressive function by which pet owners are able to express their personalities through their pets, and a sociability function by facilitating social interaction between people (Veevers, 1985), which can have an effect on their everyday stress level. The problem with studies on pets is that most researchers in this study are pet enthusiasts and the experiments have not been designed to examine how the presence of pets may add stress to the lives of some people. Also, the degree to which the strong bonds that people build with their pets have physiological and emotional consequences when their pets die is not known (Allen, Blascovich & Mendes, 2002). However there might be other components to animal ownership that influence the results. Dog owners especially not only talk to their pets but also spend a lot of time outdoors that could contribute to increased physical or mental vigor and act as a stress relief. The findings in this study are consistent with the growing literature on the role of social support of pet companion attachment in buffering the potentially negative consequences of stressful life events (Veevers, 1985). Past studies found that the presence of pets reduces blood pressure and heart rate during cognitive stressors (Allen, Blascovich, Tomaka & Kelsey, 1991) so it is appropriate to conclude that additional research should follow, to possibly find a better way in working with patients who need emotional support in fighting stress, by prescribing not pills but companion pets.

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