By: Priya Narang ’16, University of Maryland Health Center, Wellness Intern
It’s that time of the semester again when students are flooded with assignments, projects, exams, and are really feeling the stress pile up. It’s moments like this I go looking for some stress relief, whether it be listening to music, hanging out with friends, or spending time in nature. It wasn’t until the Wags for Wellness program at the University Health Center (UHC) that I realized pet therapy visits could be just as stress relieving, if not more. The first time I met the golden beauties at the UHC, I knew it was going to be a good day. I felt more calm, relaxed, and happy- and I wasn’t the only one! Other students at the event came up to me to say how much better they felt, and how excited they were for the upcoming visits.
So what about pet therapy makes it so effective? Oxytocin, commonly known as the love hormone, is what’s behind all the happiness you feel when you’re with those adorable fluff-balls. If you’re like me, you can’t help but smile when you’re with a dog. I automatically feel happier and more relaxed. The increased levels of oxytocin provide anti-stress effects and tons of other benefits (including pain-relief!).
Here are just a few of the benefits of pet therapy visits:
- Promotes relaxation. Just by petting a dog, your body has an automatic relaxation response. There are a bunch of hormones (serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin) that may help elevate your mood and make you feel more at ease!
- May reduce feelings of anxiety. Levels of epinephrine, a hormone made when you’re feeling stressed, are lower during pet therapy visits. The decrease in anxiety can also be because you can shift your attention to a positive and tangible focus, which increases comfort.
- May lessens feelings of depression. Pet visits can help to form an environment that is safe, reassuring, and comfortable. This type of environment may be able to help lower feelings of depression such as loneliness, hopelessness, and withdrawal.
- Enhances social wellness. Animals help to provide a sense of companionship, which is a great way to further your social wellness. You can also gain a sense of community by connecting with fellow Terps who are sharing in a similar experience.
Looking for pet therapy visits on campus? Check out the University Health Center’s program Wags for Wellness! Come to the ground floor of the Health Center to make some furry friends from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm on the last Monday of every month!