Finals week may not be one of the worst things that could happen to a person, but it’s definitely up there. The monumental amounts of pressure and the gradual build up in anticipation behind one single test irreversibly transforming your grade are enough to make anyone hyperventilate. Add in dozens of hours of studying and test prep materials and you’ve got a recipe for a perfect storm.
But could your dog’s wagging tail or your cat’s soft fur help you ace your finals? Perhaps. Studies show that animals can help reduce muscle tension and improve your mood. If you’re stressed out about finals, here’s a rundown of how pets could help.
Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of oxytocin, the stress-reducing hormone, and decrease production of cortisol, the stress hormone. These hormonal changes can help nervous students feel more relaxed. Reduced stress also benefits your physical health. In a 2001 study, researchers found that pet-owning patients with high blood pressure could keep their blood pressure lower during times of mental stress than patients without pets.
Animals such as dogs, cats, and rabbits are often used for therapy in hospitals, nursing homes, and take -home settings. I’ve taken my five pound chiweenie to Starbucks, and it’s amazing how people are reluctant to talk to other people but will immediately open up to an animal. There’s also something revitalizing about coming home to a furry friend that greets you like you’re a rock star. Perhaps the strong human-to-animal bond is related to childhood memories.
If you have presentations instead of final exams, animals also make great non-judgemental beings to practice your presentations on. Tony Nevett, an animal assisted therapist, whose Greyhound underwent five months of training to be certified to help elementary students in Kent overcome their anxieties of reading in front of people, says it helps because the dog is non-judgemental. “When the children read to him he just pricks up an ear or tilts his head… He doesn’t judge them and he doesn’t laugh at them. He’s just a tool…” Pets can be your best friend, but they also make great study buddies.
Okay, so maybe getting a cat or dog isn’t the best financial decision for you at this moment. There are other animals that could still be very beneficial to reducing your stress during these hectic, unforgiving times. Birds are also surprisingly affectionate and they cost about a fifth of what it costs to maintain a cat or a dog. While it may not be wise to curl up with an amphibian or other water creature, simply caring for them could also improve your mood. It creates responsibility and a new focus. Studies have shown that even watching fish can lower your pulse and ease muscle tension too.
So if you’re stressing out about finals, don’t panic. Go home, make your flashcards, get some sleep, eat your vitamins, say your prayers, play with your pet and relax, you’ll do great on your exams. Good luck!