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How Pets Can Help You Meditate and Be More Mindful

Your four-legged friend is a zen master—at least when she isn't barking at the birds.

When it comes to improving your state of zen, furry friends come with benefits. "A number of studies support the relaxing effects of interacting with pets," says Sandra Barker, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and director at the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Medicine. One Harvard University study showed that 87 percent of people felt less angsty after spending time with a pet. That's right—Fido can fetch and make you feel chill. Here are some more reasons to cuddle up to your pet tonight.

They reduce stress hormones.

In a sucky mood because of a spat with your boss? Annoying Bumble date? Put away the stress ball—and squeeze on your pet instead. In a study conducted by Barker and her colleagues, pets lowered the presence of the stress hormone cortisol. "We believe that by providing a nonjudgmental form of social support, pets may buffer the impact of stressful events," Barker says.

They boost feel-good chemicals.

Having a pet around keeps you in a haze of happiness. Research published in Science revealed that just by looking at your pet's eyes, you get a hit of oxytocin and prolactin, hormones that leave you feeling majorly blissed out. And Barker adds: If you really want to up the feel-good factor, go ahead and pet your cat or dog—the act of touching your animal activates even more serene-fueling hormones, like dopamine.

They're good for heart health.

Seeing your pet doesn't just make your heart skip a beat—it actually helps keep your heart rate from jumping up, Barker says. When your heart rate is elevated, it's easy to feel on edge, she says, but your cute creature may just be the cure.

Even better: The American Heart Association recently published research on the health perks of having a pet, and linked it to reduced heart disease, lower cholesterol and a greater chance at surviving a heart attack (although there is less data available to support that claim). It's believed that pet owners are more active, which helps keep your ticker healthy.

They make you more mindful.

If you're always spiraling into a worry zone, the same Harvard study shows that pets allow you to stay plugged into the moment.

They get you outside.

A relaxing byproduct of your pooch needing another walk? Being outdoors majorly improves your mood. In fact, according to a recent Stanford University study, escaping the indoors actually changes your mind and allows you to feel relaxed and more focused. So having an animal that always needs a daily dose of fresh air is constantly exposing you to exactly what you need to feel at peace.

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