Every morning when I wake up I know that if I stretch out my hand across the bed it will meet my male Tabby cat curled up either by my feet or shoulders. He usually greets this probing either with one of his little vocal creeks or nuzzling into my hand with his face and then we proceed to a mutual ‘good morning’ round of him rolling onto his back and me messing up his belly fur either with my face buried there sniffing in that deep homely catness or mussing him up with my hands. Now this may either sound very eccentric to you, a little bit urgh or you may identify with this completely, that is your choice. However this is my way (and recognised by my family as such) of being able to motivate myself to get up in the mornings, it is my little moment of self- nurturing and totally necessary to my sense of well- being. This short activity not only, I believe suits my cat; in that he gets his daily quota of being loved up and grooming (being a devotee of sensuality), but it gives that just waking part of my brain in the morning a positive boost through my senses of touch and smell. It directly connects with my brain, no need for complex thoughts here, we are going straight for that burst of oxytocin, the so called ‘loved up’ hormone.
Research on the value of animal therapy is a bit thin on the ground out there, but we have all seen via Youtube and Facebook clips of the important role animals can play in giving people a sense of joy and connection with the world. Facebook and Youtube are full of animals doing ridiculous or outright cute things and we are entertained by this, but more seriously they highlight the very good work animals can do for example living in old people’s residential homes. There are studies that show 20 minutes spent petting an animal can induce a drop in the stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline with an increase of the self- nurturing and balancing stress busting hormones oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. Chandler(1) asserts that there are huge benefits to interacting with animals on a physiological and emotional level, not only helping us then to interact with the world around us but in our own personal dialogue helping this to be more positive. The value in the increase of oxytocin in the words of Chandler is that as a hormone it has a strong effect not only on’ lowering our blood pressure and heart rate’ but also helps us to be more sociable.
So the next time you take time to play with your pet (or anyone else’s pet for that matter), just take a moment to reflect. This moment is valuable in so many ways; not only because you are showing your affection for another living creature and that has to be good for you and them, but it is also an incredibly pleasant way to reduce your daily stress levels ultimately enhancing both your mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Chandler,Cynthia K. Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling. Routledge, 2012.