Why Having a Dog is Good for Your Mental Health
Are dogs good for mental health?
With the Coronavirus pandemic, feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness have increased significantly. In recent months, more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults have indicated they’ve felt depressed during the pandemic. But, the pandemic isn’t the only thing causing our mental unwellness.
Around 10% of the global population is diagnosed with a mental illness, not to mention those millions of cases that go undiagnosed.
One furry silver lining that has resulted from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic though is the surge in dog adoptions. For the first time ever, animal shelters across the country ran out of dogs! Many of the pet parents who welcomed a new furry friend into their home were not planning on doing so before the pandemic.
Studies have shown that this decision to welcome a dog into the family has proven to improve mental wellbeing.
Here are several ways why having a dog is good for your mental health.
Dogs for mental health provide a sense of purpose
Having a dog is a commitment, but it also provides a sense of purpose and responsibility to owners, their partners, and even their kids. Caring for a dog can make you feel needed and wanted. It can help bring joy, meaning, and a sense of self-worth into your life.
The need to care for another being provides a reason to get up everyday, especially for elderly adults. In fact, studies have shown that people are at their happiest and live longer when they feel their lives have purpose.
Dogs encourage socialization
When going out for a walk with your four-legged friend, how many times does Fido sniff another dog or get sniffed by another dog? These sniff sessions make for the paw-fect ice-breakers, making it easier to start conversations with the human on the other end of the leash.
Taking your dog for a walk can lead to increased opportunities for socializing, creating friendships, and finding social support, which provides a sense of belonging that is key to our emotional well-being and overall mental health.
In a study of people in wheelchairs, those with a service dog had more conversations and received more smiles from people than those without a dog. Able-bodied people often “exhibit behaviors that show them to be socially uncomfortable upon encountering a physically disabled stranger,” but the findings from the study found that service dogs greatly “reduced the tendency of the able-bodied people to ignore or avoid the disabled person.” The overall results of the study suggest that dogs are not only beneficial in work tasks, but they have a huge role in enhancing social interactions, as well.
Dogs add structure to your day
Having a routine encourages healthy habits, keeps you calm, and reduces stress levels. Dogs require a regular schedule for feeding, exercise, eating, and sleeping. Providing a consistent routine helps both you and your furry friend stay balanced.
Regardless of your mood, one nudge or pitiful look from your pup and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed them, exercise, and take care of them. Keeping up with a regular schedule will only have positive effects on your mental health and that of your dog’s.
Dogs help reduce stress and anxiety
Petting a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure and soothe people when they are anxious or stressed. Because dogs live in the present and without judgement, they can help their owners to become more mindful and calm.
The comfort and support that dogs are able to provide impact people in a variety of ways. Victims of mass shootings have found particular support in comfort dogs. What differentiates dogs for mental health from household dogs is that they are specially trained to be calm and support people who need it. Victims have even indicated they’ve preferred petting a dog than talking to a counselor as a means of their emotional recovery process.
Dogs decrease loneliness and depression
Among the benefits of being a pet parent is the sense of companionship and unconditional love provided by four-legged friends. Those with dogs for mental health have been shown to have a lower rate of depression than those without.
Dogs give out unconditional love and just want to be loved in return. Every time you gaze lovingly into your dog’s eyes, their levels of oxytocin — the “love hormone” — go up, as do yours.
It’s said that dogs are a man’s best friend. While the saying could use an update, that doesn’t change the fact that dogs are loyal, loving, dependable, and full of love. Who wouldn’t want a best friend with these qualities? When you bring a dog into your home, you gain both a forever friend and a furry therapist with numerous benefits on your mental and emotional health.
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