As a writer at Daydreamdog with keen interest in mental health, I’ve decided to combine my two passions in the form of this article. If you have ever owned a pet, you already know how much love, positivity and fun they can bring. They become the centre of our lives, bringing so much happiness while requesting for nothing in return.
Pets can also bring influential mental health benefits too. Dogs in particular can offer a companionship that reduces anxiety, stress and depression, alleviate loneliness and encourage playfulness and affection. Essentially, dogs can help people to live mentally healthier lives.
How Dogs Can Help People Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Engaging and committing to a healthy lifestyle plays a key role in easing symptoms of mental health difficulties, including depression, stress, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and drug addiction.
The responsibilities associated with caring for a dog can help people take those important first steps of making healthy lifestyle changes. These include increasing exercise, providing companionship, promoting socialisation, reducing anxiety and stress and creating structure and routine.
Taking a dog on a walk, hike or run is an enjoyable and fulfilling way to keep both you and the dog fit and healthy. Studies show that dog owners will reach or exceed the recommended daily exercise requirements compared to individuals without dogs. Daily adventures will also strengthen the companionship between you and eliminate most behavior problems in dogs. Essentially, having a dog in one’s life is a great way of enjoying the outdoors, which in itself has many health benefits.
In particular, exercise can help the successful recovery of drug addiction. Drugs become addictive by stimulating the brain’s reward system through a rush of dopamine, known as a “feel-good hormone”. Exercise is an alternative (and more importantly) healthier reward for the body and brain. This can be particularly effective in the early days of recovery when withdrawal cravings are high, fundamentally making it easier to maintain sobriety.
The companionship that dogs can offer to people can help us feel needed and wanted. The responsibility of caretaking has mental health benefits, providing us with a sense of purpose, meaning and happiness. These effects can be especially true when adopting or rescuing a dog.
Dogs love their owners unconditionally. They are always happy to see their owners and wish to spend time with them, no matter what. This type of unconditional love stimulates the brain to release dopamine (similar to the effects of exercise), resulting in a pleasurable response.
Promoting Social Connections
Dogs can readily follow human cues because of their understanding of their owner’s moods and emotions. As a result, dogs can support one’s emotional development and make it easier to socialize with others.
Dogs encourage social connection by providing a common subject to talk about. For example, walking a dog often leads to conversations with others. Consequently, dog owners tend to be more sociable and feel less isolated.
A person’s mental health improves when they are feeling more socially connected. Generally, people who have more social relationships and friendships are happier and healthier. There are plenty of benefits of social connection including increased self-esteem, lower rates of anxiety and depression, stronger emotional regulation skills, enhanced cognitive function and more feelings of trust toward others.
Improve Relationship Skills
Dogs help improve relationship skills. Forming a meaningful relationship with a dog can boost an individual’s confidence and develop skills. These abilities then transfer to relationships and friends, ultimately promoting growth and recovery.
Alleviating Mental Health Conditions
Dogs can help people manage their emotions and encourage them to engage in healthy coping techniques. In fact, a meta-analysis showed that dogs distracted participants from the symptoms of their mental health condition. This includes hearing auditory commands, engaging in suicidal thoughts or rumination.
In addition, caring for a dog creates a feeling of being in control, an important aspect of sobriety.
When humans become stressed, we release a steroid hormone called cortisol. However, interacting with a dog can subsequently reduce these levels of cortisol while also increasing the release of oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine:
· Oxytocin is also known as the “love hormone” that naturally reduces stress. Oxytocin is also associated with empathy, trust and relationship building. This is why pet therapy is so astonishing and powerful, often becoming a vital part of mental health treatment.
· Serotonin and dopamine are hormones sometimes referred to “happy chemicals” because of its contribution to wellbeing and happiness. When they are released, they soothe and relax the nervous system.
Moreover, the sensory act of stroking a dog lowers blood pressure and thus reduces stress. Studies have demonstrated that dogs can help calm children who are aggressive, or have autism or hyperactivity disorders. Even individuals who do not particularly like dogs can experience the benefits.
Creating Structure and Routine
There are many duties associated with caring for dogs on an everyday basis. Owners need to keep dogs healthy to live a fulfilling and happy life, no matter what mood they may be in. Because of this, dogs help us build structure and routines to our day.
Furthermore, looking after a dog reminds us to maintain our own wellbeing as well.
In summary, it seems clear that dogs and mental health go paw in paw. The bond between a human and a dog is indeed an undeniable one, and the unconditional love we receive from dogs is a natural mood booster. If you think you will benefit from an emotional support animal then discuss this with your doctor.