How Dogs Help Those Struggling With Anxiety
There are many ways in which your dog can help to improve your mental health.
Dogs can be a great way to reduce anxiety and improve mood, as they increase our physical activity and playfulness, lead to more time in nature, and boost our happiness with their companionship.
Having a sense of purpose and structure can lead to better mental health; the daily walking and feeding of pups can bolster these routines.
Emotional Support Animals, or therapy dogs, can help to reduce your anxiety as you can bring them to work or on a flight.
Did you know?
The power of pets has been known for centuries - animals were first used therapeutically in ancient Greece, where horses were used to help lift the spirits of severely ill people.
With the number of people afflicted with anxiety increasing by the day, there’s one simple solution that may be overlooked: your favorite four-legged, tail-wagging furry friend! The bond between humans and dogs is no secret, but the power of pets goes even further; they can help to improve mood, reduce stress, and relieve anxiety.
Although you may not always feel stress-free from your pooch (like when you come home to a shredded couch and an overturned trash can), there are many ways in which your dog can help to improve your mental health. From being your constant companion to your cuddle buddy, your canine can help you to feel better in no time.
Walk It Out
Taking your pooch for their daily walk is a great way to get you moving, too. If dogs need walks to be happy and reduce restlessness, we should take the hint and follow suit! Studies have found that dog owners get 300 minutes of walking per week, which is about 200 more minutes than those without a Spot or Fido. While it can be difficult to motivate ourselves to exercise at times, you can’t say no to the incessant tail-wagging and excitement of your dog ready for his W-A-L-K.
Photo by Wade Lambert on Unsplash
The benefits of exercise for anxiety have been well-documented. Physical activity leads to the production of endorphins, those natural painkiller-like chemicals that improve your mood and relieve stress. While some exercises may be less enjoyable than others for you, taking a long stroll with your pup around the park is an easy one that’s bound to put a smile on your face.
Time Amongst The Trees
While we’re talking about walking, we can’t forget about the beneficial effects that nature has on our moods. The more time we spend in the great outdoors, the less we experience stress and anxiety. Don’t live near a big forest? Not to worry, even a neighborhood park can do the trick if trees are involved.
This field of research, called eco-therapy, is both new and old. The Japanese have been utilizing nature for its healing properties for decades by prescribing ‘shinrin-yoku’, or ‘forest bathing’, to improve both mental and physical health. How does it work? Immersing yourself in the natural world can lower blood pressure, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, improve mood, and increase alertness. Praise to those powerful plants!
If you’ve ever been the lucky owner of a pup, you know that these cuddly companions can reduce feelings of loneliness and brighten your day. There’s nothing better than the unrestrained excitement your dog shows when you return home from a long day at work! For those that live solo, adding a pet to your household can add a sense of liveliness to the alone-time (if that’s what you’re searching for). Loneliness is a leading cause of mental health issues, and the companionship of a dog can go a long way to reduce feelings of anxiety or depression.
Although our dogs can be our best friends, it’s also nice to have human contact, too. Our pups can help us to meet new people by being easy conversation starters. Taking Rover to the dog park, on a hike, or to the dog beach can all be good places to increase your social circle and combat loneliness. If you have feelings of social anxiety, knowing that you’ve always got your furry friend by your side can make it less intimidating to go out into the world.
All. The. Cuddles.
Humans have a basic need for touch, and petting a dog can fulfill that. When we pet a dog (or cat!), oxytocin (the love hormone), gets released in similar ways to when we hug a loved one. Oxytocin is a fundamental way in which we form attachments to others, and dogs are no exception. Other happy hormones that get produced when cuddling with a pet are serotonin and dopamine, which are serious mood-boosters and anxiety-fighters. We’re definitely aware of the power of physical touch - our weighted blankets provide similar hormone and mood boosters. We’re paws-itive you’ll feel better after a cuddle sesh with your pup.
Getting In The Routine
The responsibility of taking care of someone or something else, be it a child, a pet, or a houseplant, can bolster feelings of purpose and self-worth. When we know someone is counting on us to take care of them, we are more likely to follow through on those actions so we don’t let them down. The constant walking and feeding of dogs can create a daily structure, which tend to help people with mental health struggles. Dogs like routines, and so do we!
Playing With Your Pup
Playing around with our pets can create a sense of silliness and playfulness that we wouldn’t ordinarily do. We’re probably all guilty of talking to our pets, giving them goofy nicknames, and running around playing games with them. All of these smile-inducing activities can relieve anxiety and improve mood instantly. The more you can play, the happier you’ll be!
Sense Of Security
If you get anxiety from every noise or creak in your house, a dog can be a great way to quell those nerve-wracking thoughts. While some pups make better guard dogs than others, you’ll hopefully experience some reduction in anxiety when your dog is around, whether it’s at home or when you’re out on a walk.
For New Pup Parents
If you don’t already have a dog, you may be rushing out to add one to your family as soon as you can. While everyone has different preferences, the general anxiety-reducing qualities to look for in your new dog are: calm, affectionate, friendly, and loving. You may want to steer away from overly active dogs who are loud barkers, as they may increase your anxiety. If you have a diagnosed anxiety condition, you could look for an Emotional Support Animal, also known as therapy dogs. Any breed of dog will work, so pick whichever one makes you feel the best. We always support rescuing animals; adopt, don’t shop!