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Man’s Best friend: Does Pet Ownership Benefit College Students?

As students advance to higher education, specifically college, one can expect their anxiety levels to rise. This increase in anxiety can result from the college level being more demanding when it comes to tasks and other significant life changes that go side by side during this age of development. For this reason, a student entering college for the first time is likely to face adversity. This stage of development requires a good deal of adjustment that may eventually lead to added stress. This stress may be due to different factors like dealing with new instructors, the heavy reliance on time management skills the student may still lack, living away from home, and taking responsibility for oneself when living alone. Though eustress, also known as good stress, can increase performance, distress or overwhelming stress may lead to lower academic performance and even physical and psychological problems later on.

In the Philippines, some college-level students were found to have a high adversity quotient, the quantifiable score of a person's ability to deal with. Given the high adversity quotient, these students struggle with rigorous and challenging tasks and have difficulty coping with the stress that comes with it. As such, there is a need for an effective and accessible coping mechanism for students, mainly since an individual's coping strategies may lessen the adverse effects and other internalizing symptoms from mental health problems. Additionally, utilizing a proper coping strategy may buffer the damaging effects of stress by negatively influencing academic performance.

Though coping strategies vary per individual, some common ways college students deal with distress are exercising, talking to a friend, finding a hobby, listening to music, sleeping, relying on drugs and alcohol, eating, dieting, smoking, and reading. Coping strategies are not categorical in which individuals limit themselves to one coping strategy for the rest of their lives. Instead, an individual uses a combination of different coping strategies. Common coping strategies that Filipino adolescents use include drawing emotional or instrumental support from relatives and friends. Though it is possible to learn healthier coping strategies, some result in maladaptive coping strategies such as substance abuse. Besides the previously mentioned coping strategies, an individual may opt to use a vast range of options.

Commonly believed, having animal companions at home helps deal with the stressors brought by stressful environmental demands. Through the years, society has been more accepting of animals as part of their families. Even local malls have been more accepting of pets, which is evident in the facilities built specifically for their visitors' animal companions. There are many studies regarding animal companionship and its effect on different aspects of human behavior. Many believe that there is a high association between pet attachment strength and a feeling of social support received by an individual, affecting their well-being and academic performance. Other positive feelings of empathy, care, trust, cooperation, responsibility, and alike are also associated with having a pet. As it is common for children to grow up with pets in the household, growing up with a pet encourages prosocial human behavior, reducing aggression, positive relationships with others, and overall better well-being.

In the context of college students having pets as a coping strategy, interacting with pets can reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness, as apparent by the lessened negative physical symptoms. College students who interact with dogs find an increase in positive mood and anxiety reduction. However, although having a pet provides comfort for some college students, others reported that internalizing symptoms are more evident in individuals who grew up with an animal companion. But we should acknowledge that different outcomes with other studies depend on individual factors such as gender, culture, and closeness with the pet.



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