Most of us are familiar with the happiness and warmth that can surge through your body simply upon petting a dog – or any pet for that matter. But, what exactly is it about these special creatures that makes them so emotionally healing?
It’s more than just a feeling. According to scientists, legitimate hormonal fluctuations are involved when it comes to dogs that impact our well-being. With anxiety and depression becoming epidemics in the U.S., it’s no wonder we’re desperately seeking natural ways to improve our mood.
In fact, about 40 million adults in the U.S. are currently suffering with depression. However, dogs are confirmed to ease the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even just day-to-day stress. Just playing with a dog is proven to elevate oxytocin and dopamine levels, two of the classic feel-good neurotransmitters that are needed for optimal mental health.
There’s more to these activities we do with our dogs than meets the eye, and they bring us happiness in ways we may not even have considered.
They teach us mindfulness
Dogs are amazing mindfulness gurus. They solely exist in the present moment, with an inability to dwell on the past or fixate on the future. What’s more, they can sit in one spot for hours on end, unbothered and undistracted.
Even when you walk your dog, you can notice how well they relish the present moment. They take in nothing but the sights, sounds, and smells around them – a practice that is encouraged in meditation. Chances are, if you did decide to pick up meditation, your dog would be right beside you.
Dogs have a natural ability to exercise mindfulness, and we can take a cue from their carefree existence.
They keep us active
We know that humans need at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day, and that exercise stimulates endorphins and other neurotransmitters that are responsible for improved mental health. However, it’s really difficult to put this into practice if we don’t have a tangible reason to do it.
If you’re a dog owner, you have no choice but to get out and get moving. Your dog requires daily walks, games of fetch, and plenty of activity. By engaging in physical activity with your dog, you lower cortisol levels, which are responsible for stress.
They provide companionship
Loneliness and depression can become a chicken or the egg dilemma. Loneliness can lead to depression, as well as be a symptom of this debilitating mental condition. A dog’s ability to express empathy can be of much comfort, and their mere presence is often enough to ease feelings of loneliness.
Their loyalty also means they’re willing to accompany you on most adventures, be they a trip to the kitchen or a cross-country excursion.
What’s more, dogs are excellent listeners. Many individuals who live alone, especially seniors, report that talking to their pets reduces their anxiety and worry. It’s the illusion of “talking something out”, which most of us rarely do without someone to listen, that helps us oftentimes work through our problems.
They encourage socialization
Dogs even encourage more human interactions. If you’re out and about walking with your dog, you’re sure to catch the attention of many strangers, who will want to pet and learn more about your four-legged friend. This can lead to new conversations and new connections with people that you may not have approached otherwise.
Furthermore, it leads to relationships with other dog owners. People love to bond over common interests or situations, and sharing the experience of being a dog owner is sure to contribute to that. Whether at the dog park or at the store, your status as a dog owner is likely to inspire anecdotes and introductions from other dog owners.
They provide us with a purpose
Many people slip into a depression when they feel their life doesn’t have a sense of “purpose.” That’s why this mental state is so common after retirement, losing a job, or a divorce. Suddenly, that thing that defined you is gone.
A dog lends structure to your day once again. You know that they need to eat at a certain time, be taken out three times a day, be groomed once a month, and have a bath once a week. This sense of responsibility can breathe life back into someone who is struggling with a mental illness.
What’s more, taking on these responsibilities is returned with immense gratitude, loyalty, and love from your dog, which makes them all the more rewarding. Dogs can be a life-changing contribution to our mental health – one that even lasts long after they’re gone.