The Mood Boosting Power of Dogs - 10 ways owning a dog can help you cope with depression and anxiety
Updated: Nov 5, 2018
So What's this all about and how does it involve animals?
It’s easy to think there’s no right place to talk about mental health. But the more we talk about it, the better life is for all of us. Too many people with mental health problems are made to feel isolated, worthless and ashamed.
Time to Change is a wonderful charity championing a change in attitude about mental health. Today is their annual awareness day "time to talk" and it's a chance for all of us to be more open about mental health – to talk, to listen, to change lives. Wherever you are – at home, at work or up the top of a mountain! – have your conversation about mental health.
So, how can dogs help you cope with
depression, anxiety, and stress?
If you've ever owned a pet, you already know how much fun and affection they can bring. But did you know that pets also come with some pretty powerful mental and physical health benefits? Dogs in particular can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for a dog can help children grow up more secure and active or provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps most importantly, though, a dog can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.
1.They make you smile
More than any other animal, dogs have evolved to become acutely attuned to humans and our behaviour and emotions. While dogs are able to understand many of the words we use, they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling. They want nothing more than to make you smile (and to work out when the next walk or treat might be coming, of course) and lets face it, who can resist smiling when our dogs look at us with those cute eyes, looking to us for reassurance and affection? Just smiling when you aren’t happy can make you happier - it's a fact!!!!!
2. The therapeutic effects of touch
Most dog owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with canine companions but many remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of playing with or snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond.
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that dogs fulfil the basic human need to touch. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe us when we’re stressed or anxious providing sensory stress relief. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. Stroking a dog lowers blood pressure and can help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed. A cuddle always makes things better, it's so important we've even have National Hug Day!
3. Providing Companionship
The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness. Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a living animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail and wet kisses.
4. Healthy exercise
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes plays an important role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.
Increasing exercise by taking a dog for a walk, hike or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is great for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, eradicate most behaviour problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy.
5. Healthy ageing
As well as providing vital companionship, owning a dog can play an important role in healthy ageing by helping you find meaning and joy in life. As you age, you’ll lose things that previously occupied your time and gave your life purpose. You may retire from your career or your children may move away. Caring for a dog can bring pleasure and help boost your morale, optimism, and sense of self-worth. Choosing to adopt a dog from a shelter, especially an older dog, can add to the sense of fulfilment, knowing that you’ve provided a home to a pet that may otherwise have been euthanized.
6. Staying connected.
Maintaining a social network isn’t always easy as you grow older. Retirement, illness, death, and relocation can take away close friends and family members. And making new friends can get harder. Dogs are a great way for adults to spark up conversations and meet new people and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Dog owners also meet new people in doggy clubs, and training classes but also with the social network on the internet.
Joining dog groups online gives you the opportunity to talk to other like minded people when your stuck indoors too and makes a platform for asking questions if you're having any difficulties with your furry friend. There's always someone who can say "I had that problem too, you're not alone" and offer words of advice.
7. Boosting vitality.
You can overcome many of the physical challenges associated with ageing by taking good care of yourself. Dogs encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise, which can help boost your immune system and increase your energy. Having a good laugh will help disperse negative feelings and lets face it dogs are real characters with all their funny little ways and silly facial expressions. As a child I loved looking at the cartoon strip with Garfield and Odie, Odie always had great comedic timing without ever realising it, laughter is the best medicine as they say!
8. Reducing anxiety.
The companionship of a dog can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world. Because dogs live in the moment—they don't worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present.
9. Adding structure and routine to your day.
Dogs require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps a dog balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one plaintive look from your dog and you'll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise and care for your him.
10. Get a dog and lose weight.
Many of us suffer with anxiety about the way we look- can I get into that dress for my brothers wedding, will my bikini fit for my holiday etc etc and our dogs can get overweight too - although they don't seem to get anxious about it! Numerous studies have linked dog ownership to weight loss.
One year-long study found that walking an overweight dog helped both the animals and their owners lose weight. Researchers found that the dogs provided support in similar ways to a human exercise buddy, but with greater consistency and without any negative influence.
People who walked therapy dogs for up to 20 minutes five days a week lost an average of 14 lbs in a year without changing their diets and studies have shown that for overweight people and dogs, a 30 minute walk three times per week can reduce blood pressure, increase energy, improve sense of well-being, and lower your weight by 5% and your dog’s by 15%. A 30 minute walk once a day is easily achievable even if you only have a little dog!
It's so important that we look after our mental health, without it we can't look after those we love the most whether they be our human family or our pet family. There are some really fab websites out there that address mental health issues offering help and guidance. These are only a few.
The Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
Time to change https://www.time-to-change.org.uk
Mind- The mental Health Charity https://www.mind.org.uk
Heads together https://www.headstogether.org.uk/
There are also many charities and organisations that use animal therapy to help aid recovery from stress, depression and anxiety.
Lets work together and help each other stay healthy and happy!