If social interactions with other people can be an important source of stress for anxious people, sometimes even going to the extent of triggering heavy panick attacks, our animal friends could have the exact opposite effect.
If you happen to have a dog, or a cat already, you probably know that when you come home after a long day of work, being greeted by a big slobbery dog kiss or the purring of cat is one great feeling in itself. The sight of an animal sleeping peacefully in your living room or playing joyfully in its cage or on your knees can also bring a more than welcome distraction to your mind, focusing your thoughts on something that will bring your general anxiety level down.
Studies have shown recently that, when confronted to executing a stressful task in the presence of either their spouse, their pet, alone, or both their pet and their spouse, people experienced the lowest levels of stress when they were with their pet only. As a matter of fact, I was able to verify this theory myself, during some of my panic attacks.
When I felt like the world was going the wrong way and that an imminent catastrophe was coming at me, just looking at my cat sleeping on the bed helped me rationalize the situation and realizing no danger was around. Why ? Because cats know. I have noticed that thanks to his cat superpowers, my cat feels when a storm is coming and goes straight under the table to hide. So if he is still sleeping like a bear hibernating, it must mean that everything is fine, right ? In the same way, when I feel like my min dis going too fast and driving me crazy, lying down next to my sleeping cat and petting it is a great way to soothe me, as I instantly get focused on something else, something pleasant and peaceful. Of course, this works with many other animals too !
Stronger bonds between a pet and his owner have proven to be the most efficientones in stress and anxiety reduction, but a simple encounter can be very powerful as well. Indeed, people who have been exposed to a dog right before a treatment operation have experienced a 37% reduction of their stress levels. In the United States, universities are starting to acknowledge the benefits animals are likely to bring for the students facing mental health issues. This is why some of them are now allowing, after authroization, students to live with their pet in their on-campus housing.