If you were about to face a stressful situation, with whom would you rather spend time beforehand: Your dog or your best friend? You probably know where I’m going with this – and yes, in studies, people who hung out with their pet before tackling a big task had a lower stress response than those who hung out with a human friend… or even their family.

That’s according to research from psychology professor Robert Matchock from Penn State University. And any pet you love can have the same effect – from hamsters to parakeets. That’s because we worry about what another human will think of us. And no matter who it is, we have emotional baggage tied to them. Whereas with a pet, the love is unconditional and nonjudgmental. And even looking at an animal makes people breathe more slowly, feel less tense, and feel less pain. It’s all down to the rush of positive brain chemicals that are released when we hang out with a pet or look in their eyes. And the best part is – it’s reciprocal. According to the journal Science, when your dog looks in your eyes, they get a dose of feel-good brain chemicals, too. And veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker says that loop of feel-good hormones is equivalent to being hugged by your mother, while eating chocolate, after winning money on a scratch-off lotto ticket.

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