From the time spent with Arthur, our rescue Lurcher, I know only too well the joy and benefits that owning a dog can have. Our guest, Will, here shares some of the benefits having a four-legged friend can have with regard to our mental health which is based upon his excellent 12-part article written for Dog Owner.
Mental health issues can affect anyone – it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do for a living. It can be hard to talk about our mental health with those closest to us, and the fear of being judged or labelled as something we are not (lazy, entitled, high strung) is often enough to deter us from fully sharing the way we feel. However, many of us have our dogs, or the option to visit one.
They offer the love, a listening ear when we need it and can benefit a myriad of mental health issues.
Dogs and Depression
Depression hits many of us at some point, and it can completely remove our desire to do anything with our life – even causing us to question why we should get out of bed. It can leave us feeling worthless and alone, without routine, and as though our life has no meaning. However, a four-legged companion can change that completely.
A dog requires us to get up every day; they need to be let outside, fed, played with, and walked. They need care and attention, and we are the only one able to provide that. Caring for a dog, and spending time with them, not only helps to balance serotonin levels, but it also provides a sense of purpose and a reason to get up.
Knowing that our dog is cared for, instils feelings of validation and self-worth, which can also boost confidence.
They offer a level of love that can bring us out of the darkest moments, as it is entirely unconditional. Their ability to sense our emotions means that they just want to be near when we are suffering.
Dogs and Anxiety
This is another condition that a huge number of people suffer from, and each attack can feel like it will never end. There are varying levels, and forms of anxiety, that people can experience but regardless of the type, a dog can help the mildest and most severe cases equally.
When we start to feel anxious, simply petting our dog or giving them a hug will release a load of oxytocin. This is the hormone responsible for lowering blood pressure and heart rate; it also calms the mind and body, as well as reduces stress. It creates a more peaceful atmosphere that increases as we continue to bond with our dog.
Dogs will also let us know if anything is out of the ordinary. So, even if we feel that something isn’t quite right…
…it’s likely that this feeling isn’t real if our dog is still calm and by our side. Interestingly, this often brings a lot of comfort to those with PTSD.
Dogs and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
This is a mental health issue that has only recently been taken as seriously as it should, and while it can present in a similar way to bipolar, the two should not be confused. Many people with BPD have intense fears of abandonment, experience impulsive behaviour, severe mood swings and outbursts, and intense relationships that are usually unstable. It can be very difficult thing to live with and try to understand, but dogs have been shown to help here as well.
As previously mentioned, a dog is a loyal friend who gives unconditional love and will never abandon their human, which creates a sense of security and can also teach a person how to trust again – especially if they have had a bad experience in the past. A dog also offers a shoulder to cry on and someone to talk to who will not judge them in any way.
During mood swings, they will not leave or scold; they will simply be there for us when we need their support.
Another advantage is that a dog also helps you to get outside and exercise, which can help to boost a low mood. During mood swings, they will not leave or scold; they will simply be there for us when we need their support. Plus, they calm feelings of anxiety when we pet them due to the release of oxytocin.
Dogs can do wonders for our mental and emotional state, ensuring that we can lead a better and happier life. So, when you get home, make sure you give your dog a massive hug and thank them for being there when you need them most. – Will Tottle