I was recently contacted by a student who was writing a paper and looking for my input on the potential benefits of having a dog, for people living with anxiety and depression.
I am not an expert on the subject, but I had plenty of experience with my own dog to draw from.
I have a big German Shepherd named Bear who, if I am being honest, increases my stress levels on a lot of days. He is stubborn and doesn’t listen. I have had to chase him through the neighborhood while I was pregnant with twins. He is addicted to eating crayons, tears through my house like a horse out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby, and is constantly filling his mouth with food, bringing it into the next room and dropping it all over the carpet. He is a handful.
But Bear and I have a bond. He is my silent buddy, always there with me. My anxiety centers around the safety of my kids and my discomfort with being alone while my kids’ dad is off working 24 hour shifts, and he helps me through it. If my kids go out to play, he is watching them every second. If I am sitting watching TV, Bear is right next to me keeping me company. When I lay down to go to sleep at night, I rest much easier because I know that Bear is on the floor in my kids’ room, making sure they are okay. He is a great dog, and I am very thankful to him for the peace of mind that he gives to me and my kids.
My reply to the student expressed my belief, based upon my own experience, that having a dog could be a truly valuable asset to those of us living with mental health disorders or illnesses.
After responding to her, I decided that this topic would be great to blog about and I decided to do a little digging (no doggie pun intended 😉 ) to see what others thought. I am so glad I did because I read some of the most touching stories about people living with anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD and the positive effects of their bonds with their service dogs or pets. I also found some great studies that seemed to confirm the calming power of our four-legged friends, including this one in which the results seem to strongly suggest that HAI (human-animal interaction) can cause our brain to release the anti-stress, feel good hormone oxytocin. This benefit appeared to be most pronounced when it was the human’s own pet as opposed to an animal he or she did not share a “bond” with.
All in all there is a lot of evidence out there to support the idea that dogs and
emotional well-being go hand in
hand! (Make that hand in paw. )
Dogs can be a lot of work, especially puppies, so I wouldn’t recommend getting one if you are in the middle of a really bad anxiety cycle or if you are in a serious state of depression.
That is a time for self-care, not puppy care. However, if your anxiety or depression is relatively manageable at this time and you are open to the idea of adopting a dog, give this infographic a read. It is full of good reasons for you to open your heart and home to a dog. And remember that as much as a dog would help lift and calm your spirits, you would be doing the same thing for him or her right back – and that is a beautiful thing.
Glad you stopped by. No worries.