Why Owning a Dog Can Help with Your Mental Health
posted on October 30, 2019 | by Caitlyn Campbell
Dog owners love their pets for a multitude of reasons, but one of those reasons (whether they realize it or not) is because dogs can help their owners with their mental health. Thanks to initiatives around the world, like Heads Together in the UK, Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada, and the days and months devoted to mental health worldwide, we’re finally starting to pay attention to how our mental health affects everything that we do. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in providing mental health help to people. The biggest barrier to people receiving help is the expense. Most people can’t afford to see a therapist regularly, and while a dog is not a substitute for professional mental health help, they can definitely help.
Studies show that when you hang out with your dog the hormones that help you feel happy and loved increase. Your oxytocin levels rise, and your cortisol levels (a hormone that increases when you’re stressed) decreases. Your heart rate also slows down, which is great if you have high blood pressure. So, if you have a dog, make sure that you hang out with him/her as soon as you get home from work, within five to fifteen minutes you’ll start feeling much more relaxed, and happier.
STAYING IN THE MOMENT
As my therapist always tells me, “what if’s” are the language of anxiety. When you start getting anxious usually it’s about something that is in the future, or in the past. When your mind stays in the present moment, however, it is there where you can find the calm. Easier said than done, let me tell you, but that’s another thing that a dog can help you with. When you’re playing with your dog your brain is in the present moment. You’re most likely not thinking or worrying about anything else because your pup is making you smile and laugh while you play. Having those moments where our brains are locked into the moment, and fully engaged, help ourselves refocus and get into a better place mentally.
FURRY ROOMMATE & GREAT DISTRACTION
For a lot of people who live alone, coming home or waking up to an empty home can get mentally draining. There’s a lot of “you” time, and in some cases, too much of it. Sometimes when we are left alone with our thoughts for too long our negative thoughts can become repetitive and circle around our brains on an endless loop. This can become a problem when you live alone because there’s no one around to help get you out of your own head. Having a dog offers a comforting presence that isn’t intrusive like another human being can be, and also helps you stay in the present, and interact with something other than your own thoughts.
GETTING IN THOSE STEPS
We all know that exercising is imperative for our physical health, but it’s also imperative for our mental health. Getting outside, taking a walk, or going for a jog are great ways to get in some light exercise, while also getting some fresh air. It’s hard, however, to get yourself to exercise when it isn’t something that you want to do. Cue the dog. Dogs need walks, exercise, and to get outside. Having a dog will thus force you to also get your steps in. Taking two good walks a day with your dog will be beneficial for your overall health, and will, of course, keep your pup healthy as well.
The other thing about walking a dog around your neighborhood is that you meet other dog owners, who are a friendly bunch. It can be a great way to meet your neighbors and to start forging connections in your community. Feeling like you belong somewhere also greatly increases your mental health.
Owning a dog is not something to undertake lightly. Dogs do require a lot of love and care, and if you can’t provide that then it isn’t fair to the dog, and you shouldn’t get one. Dogs also do not take the place of any kind of professional mental health help. If you feel like you do need help please reach out to your doctor who can help you find someone to talk to. However, if you do have the ability to care for a dog then it’s something that I suggest that you seriously look into.
Our family dog, Cooper, who’s a miniature dachshund, is a mischievous little guy who loves socks, but he has helped to reduce my anxiety and my panic attacks. It’s hard to be focused on anxious thoughts when Cooper is demanding that you play tug of war with your sock…that’s still on your foot.