Dogs not only give us companionship and love, the human-animal bond provides healthier lives and combats anxiety. Steven Feldman, the Executive Director of the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), has researched the many benefits of owning a pet and has shown that there are positive effects for those with depression and anxiety. The evidence shows how the emotional and social well-being of this relationship between human and animal brings support and treatment of mental disorders and looks promising for future treatments.
The calming effects of caring for an animal and the unconditional love received provides protection and comfort. Companionship and social aspects of owning a pet is another integral part of the healing process with anxiety. Pets have been found to have positive mental and physical effects on us in the forms of getting out and socializing and getting in some extra exercise. It can help with feelings of isolation and loneliness which can have negative impacts on our minds and bodies.
While most dog owners know the immediate joys of having a pet, many are unaware of the mental and physical benefits of the human-animal bond. It is only recently that this relationship has been explored in the medical field.
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes plays an important part in easing symptoms of anxiety and depression, so snuggle up with your furry friend to get some support:
- Touch: Stroking and cuddling with your dog lowers blood pressure and can make you feel much calmer and less stressed. Using your senses, like touch, can relieve anxiety and help you stay calm and focused no matter what life throws at you.
- Exercise: Taking your dog for a walk can ease anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that dog owners are more likely to exercise daily, which releases endorphins that fight anxiety and give you a sense of well-being. Your dog loves it too.
- Companionship: Dogs help boost your mood. Playing with your dog and just having them around can help discourage feelings of sadness, loneliness, and can offer comfort and help ease anxiety. Neurotransmitters (like oxytocin, which creates a sense of calmness; and serotonin, which helps regulate moods) promote positive feelings and are often released when you spend time with your dog.
- Socialize: They help you socialize since pets can help foster human interactions. Dog owners are more likely to meet someone in a pet-related situation, like dog parks, pet stores and training classes. Having close friendships, especially with like-minded pet owners, can help boost your resilience and help you rebound from hardships.
- Structure: Adding structure and routine to your day can help with anxiety and depression. Dogs require regular feeding, exercise and care so having a consistent schedule keeps a dog balanced and calm and it can work for you too. It wouldn’t matter if you feel depressed, stressed or anxious, when your dog looks at you because it’s hungry or wants to go for a walk, you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for your pet.
Just about anyone can benefit from adding a dog to the family. Pets offer a wealth of health benefits, most notably, the ability to reduce anxiety and depression. Who would have known that your furry friend can hold the key to comfort, support and the basic need all of us have, which is unconditional love.
To learn more about Melissa A. Woods and her work with helping people move past their struggles with anxiety and depression, visit www.gettingpastanxiety.com.
Melissa A. Woods is the author of Getting Past Anxiety, an inspirational novel to reclaim your life (Aviva Publishing, 2017). You can find her on Facebook and Twitter. For more information and strategies on anxiety, visit her website at www.gettingpastanxiety.com.
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