It's long been said that owners of animals, particularly dogs, enjoy longer, healthier lives. With their puppy dog eyes and wagging tails, it's no wonder that dogs are often used as therapy animals, and that the people who own them report being happier and more satisfied. Here are five of the many ways that having a furry friend can help lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve your overall mental health.
Caring for a dog increases your sense of responsibility
Owning an animal such as a dog has been known to give a sense of purpose and worth to individuals experiencing feelings of hopelessness or uselessness. A pet such as a dog doesn't have the means to provide for itself. Your poodle can't open the pantry door and feed himself or let himself out into the yard to play in the sun. Because no one else is going to do it, you have to. In this way, some depressed individuals find the responsibility of owning a pet as a rich way to start finding purpose and importance in their life. You may find yourself taking better care of yourself because you understand that a small, helpless creature is relying on you.
Dog ownership encourages a healthy routine
If you're feeling anxious or depressed, you may find it difficult to establish healthy routines. Things like getting out of bed on time, going to the gym, exercising regularly, eating regularly and healthily, and maintaining physical hygiene often fall to the wayside when an individual is struggling with their mental health. Owning a dog requires the implementation of routine. Pups need to go out to potty regularly. They need to be fed regularly and cared for in intentional, timely manners. Often, the routine that pet ownership implements on the owner's life has positive impacts on the human's routine, as well. For example, it may be easier to get out of bed on time if you know that your yorkie is waiting to be let out into the yard, and it may be easier to remember to feed yourself when you also are regularly feeding your furry friend.
Taking care of a dog demands exercise and movement
Along with having difficulty establishing a routine, those struggling with a mental illness may find it even more difficult to specifically incorporate exercise into their daily life. As a part of general care, dogs do require exercise. If you live in an apartment or other housing option which has no yard, you're forced to take your dog outside to use the toilet and get fresh air. These brief excursions outside might seem inconsequential, but the truth is that they can do a lot for your mental health. Just getting outside, stretching your legs, and seeing the sun a bit can boost your mood and promote movement and exercise. In that way, owning a pup is the perfect way to introduce more activity into a sedentary lifestyle. Besides, everyone knows that exercise is more fun with a friend.
Pets like dogs give physical affection which boosts mental health
It's long been known that physical affection from a loved one releases pleasure hormones in our brains and can help us overcome feelings of sadness and depression--that's why it's customary to hug someone who's feeling down or pat someone on the back if they've lost a soccer game or football match. These gestures of physical affection are not just beneficial when coming from other humans, but also when they come from dogs. As highly domesticated animals that bond well with their human owners, dogs are excellent at showing physical affection. Whether it's pawing at your leg to ask to sit on your lap, curling up on your stomach while you watch TV, or napping at your feet in bed--the love that pups give their owners helps boost the production of beneficial hormones such as serotonin, which helps to battle feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Especially if your anxiety and depression leads to feeling alone and abandoned, having a furry friend quite literally at your side can help you know that you're loved and cared for.
Having an animal to care for takes focus and energy off yourself
So often, the negative thoughts and feelings that drive anxiety and depression are the result of being too hard on yourself and over-focusing on your own downfalls or perceived shortcomings. Sometimes, the best angle is to take your mind off yourself entirely--focus on something else. Dogs are highly energetic, unique creatures who almost constantly demand attention. It's not unusual for dog owners to find their anxiety lessened simply by the fact that they have something better to focus on than their own negative feelings and hurtful, irrational thoughts. Dogs are charismatic and vibrant, and you may find that yours will work its way into a central focus of your life.
Of course, dog ownership is not for everyone. They are living, sentient beings which require constant care, respect and attention. They aren't a quick-fix or a medicine that will solve all your problems, and you need to consider it thoughtfully if you decide it's time to bring a dog into your life and home. That being said, if you decide you're up for dog ownership, you'll realize the challenge is worth the reward.