5 Ways Dogs Support Our Mental Health – PLAY

By Indiana Lee on August 12, 2023

The companionship offered by dogs is virtually unmatched. Your pup knows when you’re down and can pick up on subtle cues to help get you out of the funk. Exercising with your dog can also significantly improve your physical health, as playing and walking are essential parts of dog ownership.

As a pet owner, it is also your duty to look after your puppy’s health. You are responsible for caring for your four-legged friend and should give veterinary checkups the same importance you give to your own health checkups.

You can even help your dog overcome trauma and rebuild their ability to trust. This is especially important if you’re considering adopting from a shelter, as some dogs have unfortunate pasts and need lots of love and affection.

Stress relief

Modern life is inherently stressful. If you’re in a fast-paced, high-pressure job, you’re more than likely to suffer from burnout and chronic depression. Scare talk in the media can also exacerbate life stressors and make you feel pessimistic about the state of the world today.

However, when you return home with a stirring story and a thousand loving licks, you will feel your stress begin to fade. While owning a dog isn’t all about hugs and kisses, the companionship your pup provides far exceeds the responsibilities you’ll incur.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently released a “Healthy Minds Monthly Poll” that echoes this sentiment. The survey found that 86% of dog owners say their pet has improved their mental health, while 66% say their dog is a calming presence in their lives.

Your canine companion can’t make life’s stressors go away, but they can help you build resilience and build better self-care habits that last.

Building Self-Care Habits

Self-care is largely overlooked in our fast-paced modern lives. However, taking a moment to prioritize yourself and your needs can be a powerful way to improve your well-being and support your own mental health.

Owning a dog practically guarantees that you will take time to care for yourself. A dog can help you build better health habits as:

  • Exercise regularly: You need about two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week. Walking your pup and chasing him around the yard is sure to get your heart racing and is a simple way to boost your health.
  • Good quality sleep: Once the puppy phase is over, your dog can help you get a good night’s sleep. Their sleep schedule will keep you in control and make sure you’re on time. After all, you’ll have to get up early to walk them the next morning!
  • Stay hydrated: Filling your pup’s water bowl is a good reminder that you need plenty of water too. Aim to drink as much or more water as your dog and reap the rewards of staying hydrated.
  • Maintain positive relationships: Overcoming loneliness can be difficult. However, your dog provides you with an easy opportunity to meet new people and form strong bonds around a shared love for dogs and walking.
  • Eat healthy: You wouldn’t give your dog donuts and ice cream, so don’t do it to yourself. Instead, treat your own diet with the same respect you treat your dogs and focus on eating nutritious meals three times a day.

Taking care of your dog can easily translate into better self-care habits and healthier behaviors. Walking your dog regularly can help you meet your neighbors and build stronger community bonds. This is especially helpful if you live with an illness such as anxiety, as your pup’s calming presence can help you manage your symptoms.

Manage trauma and anxiety

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recently reported that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults. Six million more Americans have been diagnosed with panic disorder (PD) and 7.7 million adults are living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These numbers underscore the importance of getting help for trauma and anxiety, especially since many people suffer from more than one anxiety-related condition.

Dogs aren’t a “cure” for GAD, PD, or PTSD, but they can help better manage your symptoms. The reassuring presence of a dog can be a powerful change in your life that helps you live the way you want. A dog can be especially helpful if you are undergoing trauma therapy, as engaging in human-animal interaction can reduce the severity of your symptoms and give you the confidence to continue treatment.

It’s worth pointing out that some dogs suffer from anxiety and trauma issues themselves. As an owner, you can help your dog manage his symptoms and ease the stress he’s feeling by providing him with a stable, calm home. Keep them in mind when you plan to be away for an extended period and provide plenty of incentives (toys, games, dog sitting) to keep them busy.

If your dog suffers from anxiety, you can also explore training and medication. Speak with your veterinarian before administering any form of medical treatment, as they will be able to create an effective treatment plan.

depression and company

The National Institute for Mental Health’s “National Survey of Drug Use and Health” found that 21 million Americans suffer from major depression. Only 66% of people with major depression were able to receive treatment for their condition, which means that 13.86 million are not getting the help they need.

A dog is no substitute for mental health therapy and counseling. However, your pooch can help by supporting you when depression takes over. The supportive presence of a puppy can be especially helpful if you cry a lot. Surprisingly, crying is good for your health because tears release hormones that relieve pain and renew your emotions. However, coming out of a tearful episode alone can be an overwhelming experience.

Your puppy can help you cry and alleviate some of the symptoms you experience during a depressive episode. A recent study titled “The Role of Oxytocin in the Dog-Owner Relationship” found that petting and cuddling your dog releases a surge of oxytocin. It can help you form stronger attachments and give you the same sense of tranquility that comes from a trusting relationship with a human being. This can be especially powerful if you’ve recently found yourself alone and are struggling without a partner present.

aging gracefully

Aging is a natural process that can lead to a lot of mental stress and conflict. As your body ages, you may find that you can no longer do the things you used to love and may feel a little out of place without work or other responsibilities.

Caring for a dog can renew your sense of purpose and help you enjoy your golden years. You will have a lot to do every day when you have to take care of a puppy. Caring for a dog will keep you on your toes and help you reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.

A dog can be a very good idea if you are a little lonely later in life. Loneliness can take a toll on your mental health and completely derail your day-to-day well-being. The close companionship a dog provides can protect you from isolation and help you combat the mental decline associated with being alone.

Conclusion

Dogs are wonderful for your mental health and can dramatically improve your quality of life. However, it’s important to remember that you share a symbiotic relationship and need to take care of their mental health as well. Consider talking to your vet if you think your pup is suffering from anxiety or depression and create a calming space that helps both of you find a sense of peace.


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