The World Health Organisation declared April 7th, 2017 as World Health Day focussing on mental health specifically. The year-long campaign aims to educate, raise awareness and help people suffering from mental illness. We at Pet Gear Lab support this cause and we know how mental health could be a barrier to stop people enjoying their lives to the fullest.
Sometimes when you are down, all you need is a furry friend to lift your moods with your spirits. But what happens when your emotions run deep, when you are too nervous and anxious to leave the house, and find yourself contemplating suicide? Can your pup remind you that you are special and bring you back?
According to Ian Cook, the Director of the Depression Research and Clinic at UCLA, pets offer unconditional love that can very helpful to individuals with depression. Several studies have also shown that animals can help reduce tension and lift one’s moods.
That said, here are several reasons why dogs are good for depression.
1. They lower our blood pressure
Research has proven time and time again that people with dog owners have significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure, before and after performing strenuous tasks. Blood pressure drops when one pets a dog, particularly when it’s their favorite dog. Petting dogs have also been known to ease pain and improve one’s immune system. It is like a dog’s mere presence is beneficial for pet owners and those around.
2. They offer a soothing presence
Pets, particularly dogs, have been known to offer a soothing presence when one is performing tasks that take up a lot of mental energy. This goes a long way in helping speed up recovery of mental conditions. The soothing presence of a dog is certainly something that pet owners can relate to.
3. They offer unconditional love and acceptance
Dogs are incapable of criticizing, judging or voicing their opinions. They snuggle up next to you even if you smell like poop. According to a study cited in a Johns Hopkins Depression & Anxiety Bulletin, nursing-home residents felt less lonely when they spent some alone time with dogs when they visited with other residents and dogs. About 37 nursing home residents were enrolled in the study. These were people who were interested in weekly dog visits and scored high on a loneliness scale.
While one-half of the 37 residents had alone time with dogs, the other half shared dog visits with other residents. The decrease in depression was more significant in nursing home residents that were allowed to spend time alone with dogs for half hour every week. Put simply, many of us love to spend time alone with our furry friends because we know we can tell them our innermost feelings and we won’t get judged or criticized.
4. Dogs alter our behavior
I often come home annoyed and at what, I don’t know – perhaps the million little snafus that happened during the day. I am usually dangerously close to taking it out on someone. But before I can do that; my Lab walks up to me wanting attention.
I kneel and pet her, she licks my face and I smile. Just like that, my behavior is altered and chances that someone will become a casualty of my frustrations are now much better. I calm down when I am with my dog and I can bet the same is true for everyone. Dogs make use slow our minds, our speech, and our breath. We don’t hit people or use curse words.
5. They promote touch
There is no disputing the healing power of a touch. An article published on Huffington Post cites that a 45-minute massage can reduce the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and build white blood cells to optimize one’s immune system. Hugging floods human bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that lowers heart rates and blood pressure as well as stress levels.
A study conducted at the University of Virginia showed that holding hands reduces stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which makes part of the emotional center. It shouldn’t, therefore, come as a surprise that stroking a dog can boost dopamine and serotonin levels while lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
6. They distract
Dogs are like riveting books and movies that take us out of our heads and plunge us into another reality – one that involve affection, food, water and probably animal butt for as long as we allow it. Distraction is sometimes the only thing you need when you have hit a point where there’s no getting your head back. It is tough to ponder about how awful I feel and will probably feel forever when my Lab is breathing in my face.
7. Dogs make us responsible
Owning a dog comes with responsibility and research has shown that responsibility promotes mental health. Positive psychologists assert that applying our skills to a job and taking ownership of a task helps build our self-esteem. When we succeed, or rather when the dog is still alive the next day, we reinforce the belief that we are capable of taking care of other creatures and people other than ourselves.
This is what makes teaching kids and teenagers independence and self-mastery is so important. Taking care of a dog also brings structure to our day. Sleeping until 11.00 am is no longer an option unless you want to spend the next day cleaning up. On the other hand, some forethought and preparation is necessary when you want stay out all night.
When we succeed, or rather when the dog is still alive the next day, we reinforce the belief that we are capable of taking care of other creatures and people other than ourselves. This is what makes teaching kids and teenagers independence and self-mastery is so important. Taking care of a dog also brings structure to our day. Sleeping until 11.00 am is no longer an option unless you want to spend the next day cleaning up. On the other hand, some forethought and preparation is necessary when you want stay out all night.
8. They increase social interaction
No man is an island and staying connected to other people or creatures is good for our depression. Starting a conversation is particularly scary for people suffering from depression. That, however, doesn’t have to be true. Dogs are natural social magnets that help pet owners connect with other people and maintain friendships.
When they meet while walking or hiking with their dogs, people will often stop to share their experiences as dog owners. This unifying factor serves as the foundation to budding friendships, which ultimately helps improve symptoms of depression.
9. They help one get into physical shape
Other than grooming, dogs need physical stimulation. This means taking on walks and out to the park to play. In the process of tossing a Frisbee or hiking with your pup, you get to exercise and enjoy nature simultaneously.
The energy boost consequently boosts your mood and you blow off some steam. At the end of the day, you build your self-esteem, which is good for depression. Your skin also synthesizes vitamin D when hanging out with your dog, which helps fight symptoms of depression.
10. They are great listeners
It has been said that the most effective way to release stress is to talk about it with someone. But what if you don’t have the courage to approach a friend? What if the idea of talking about your innermost worries makes you anxious?
Pet owners, particularly those who own a dog, have the privilege of sharing their wishes and thoughts with a caring partner, with the guarantee that they won’t be disclosed to someone else. Even better, you can talk about your worries knowing that you won’t be judged. Dogs can also know if you are in an ecstatic or foul mood depending on your mood. That alone makes them great listeners.
11. Dogs provide sensory stress relief
Movement and touch are some of the most effective ways to manage stress. Owning a dog undoubtedly comes with responsibilities that touch on both such as grooming, petting and exercising them. Such tasks also help with sensory stress relief, which is particularly important for people suffering from depression.
12. Dogs help you find meaning and joy in life
This is particularly true for older people who as they age, they lose things that previously took up much of their time. Such include taking care of kids who have now moved away and a job from which you have retired. Taking care of a dog can help lift their morale, sense of self-worth and optimism, thus pleasure. It can also add to the sense of fulfillment, knowing that you provided a home to a dog that may have been euthanized. A small dog like a chihuahua could make a great companion.
Owning a dog is not a miracle cure for depression. It is only comforting and beneficial for those who appreciate and love domestic animals; as well as those who invest money and time to keep their dog healthy and happy.
Even if you are simply a dog person, it is important to understand that everything that entails taking care of a dog. It is like having a kid, only that it’s a pet with a lifetime of 10-15 years and whose loss will bring about mourning and grief that comes with losing a loved one. Regardless, there are so many health benefits of owning a dog for children, teenagers and even the elderly.
These furry pets offer more than just companionship. They help improve the symptoms of depression, and ultimately your mental health. As such, commitment to your pup is not only good for his health and happiness, but it is also good for you.
Like they say, be good to your dog and he will take care of you.