There are different mental health issues that tens of millions of people deal with. Anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two of the most common. Depression is also one of the most pervasive mental health conditions, globally.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it even more challenging to deal with symptoms and may have amplified some of these conditions as well. There are health worries, isolation, and financial impacts of the situation that many people are grappling with.
Having a dog or pet may help your mental health in some ways. That’s why service dogs are often an option for PTSD treatment among veterans and other populations.
Even if your dog isn’t a service dog, the following are some of the ways they can help your mental health and improve your quality of life.
When you have a dog, it can help you be more present and mindful in the moment. Learning to practise mindfulness can be valuable in improving your mental health.
For example, if you’re just spending time petting your dog, you’re focusing on the moment you’re in. Similarly, if you’re regularly walking your dog you may be able to focus on what’s happening around you, like the sunshine, nature, or the scenery.
A dog can help you get out of your head and into the present.
There have been studies showing that having a dog can reduce stress. That’s why many top employers let dogs come into the office; they can help promote stress-relief among employees.
Dogs are often used as part of therapy to relieve stress, and along with that drop in stress levels, having a dog might promote more happiness and fewer negative emotions.
When you interact with a pet it can reduce hormones linked to stress, and it can increase dopamine and serotonin, which are the brain chemicals that make us feel good. Sometimes these are called happiness hormones. This happens while cortisol can decline, which is dubbed the stress hormone.
Being around animals is so effective that there’s animal-assisted therapy used as part of mental health treatment.
Exercise and the outdoors
Having a dog can require that you get exercise because your dog needs it. Exercise is a good way to improve every area of our physical health and our mental health. When you’re walking with your dog, you can lower your blood pressure and boost the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain.
Your walks with your dog also give you the chance to get outdoors. Just being outside can help relieve your stress and boost your mood. It can also help you feel more creative.
It doesn’t matter what type of environment you live in—you can still experience the benefits of being outside.
Having a dog is a good way to meet other pet owners and people in general. Maybe you’re out and about at dog parks, or even just walking along the streets of your neighbourhood. You can meet other dog owners and you’ll feel less isolated. That can be especially important right now as so many people are feeling isolated because of coronavirus.
Having a sense of purpose is something that can improve our mental health, but as we age, sometimes that purpose may feel like it’s slipping away.
For example, if you’re retired, and your children are adults, you might feel like you’ve lost some of the sense of purpose you once had. It’s natural to feel that way, but pets can be tremendously beneficial in this area.
You have an animal dependent on you, and you have a responsibility to care for them. When you take care of a dog, it can help improve your self-esteem, and it provides you with a sense of accomplishment.
Benefits for children
Children experience mental health conditions as well, including anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
Being around animals can help them manage these symptoms similar to adults.
For example, there was a study conducted by the CDC of 643 children. Slightly more than half of the children had a pet in the home. Children with pets had lower levels of reported stress and anxiety.
Of course, you shouldn’t get a pet if you don’t think you can handle the responsibility, because it can be a lot. But if you’re weighing whether or not you should get a dog, there are many benefits to your mental health and well-being. It’s a good way to improve your quality of life so it’s worth considering.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.