It is a well-known fact that pets improve our mood, make us feel happy on a daily basis, and improve our health. The benefits of living with a dog are numerous. Your life becomes your dog’s life and soon you become inseparable. Not only do dogs provide unconditional love and companionship both to young and seniors but they can also have a therapeutic effect on your mental health. In fact, it has been proved that once they got a dog, people who suffered from an anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and depression improved their mental health with time. Sometimes it really feels like dogs have special powers. With their support, dogs can fill just any void. But how exactly can dogs do that? By keeping on reading this article, you will learn which benefits dogs bring to your life if you suffer from anxiety. Moreover, discover the difference between service and therapy dogs and learn about the best psychiatric service dog breeds.
24 Benefits Of Getting A Dog If You Struggle With Anxiety
1. Release Of The Love Hormone
Oxytocin, also known as the hormone of love, is very important both for our emotional and mental health. This hormone is not only tied to love. It is also released with play, laughter, hugging, and social bonding in general. People with anxiety disorder often feel lonely, depressed, and stressed due to Oxytocin deficiency. There are a lot of ways to help Oxytocin levels increase such as with exercise, a positive environment, healthy food intake, but most of all socializing with dogs. Many pieces of research have shown that our brain releases Oxytocin by taking care of a dog. This promotes attachment which is very important for a person who struggles with anxiety and depression. People with an anxiety disorder know what it is like not to have enough energy to connect or talk with people. They also prefer being on their own, rather than socializing. Most dog owners with anxiety problems say that getting a dog was life-changing for them. In fact, just by seeing or petting your dog, the level of Oxytocin increases significantly and eventually leads to better overall psychological stability. The experience of your dog happily jumping all over you and kissing your face first thing in the morning may motivate you to get up. Also, it will bring joy and laughter back into your life.
2. Stress Hormone Reduction
Besides the increase of the love hormone, owning a dog helps to reduce the levels of the stress hormone known as Cortisol which results in a relaxed state. In fact, spending time with a dog may help to prevent or completely eliminate unwanted thoughts of worry and fear. Also, most dogs feel when you are stressed and they can be trained to comfort you. For example, if a dog senses that you are unwell, it will immediately stay by your side and bring you comfort such as sit or lay next to you or put its head on your knees. Often, your state of mind will be mirrored by your dog. So, when you start feeling happy, your will soon notice that your dog feels better as well.
3. Improving Blood Pressure
Even though anxiety itself does not affect high blood pressure permanently, the anxiety episodes temporarily increase your blood pressure. If you experience such episodes on a daily basis, it might cause heart health problems and damage your blood vessels with time. Also, anxiety makes people engage in bad habits such as overeating which is also bad for your blood pressure. It is known that dogs have a calming effect on people and this is why dog owners have a fewer risk of cardiovascular disease. Dogs help high blood pressure to go back to normal very quickly.
4. Exercise And Nature Walk
It is a well-known fact that physical exercise is good for all people. The benefits of staying active on a daily basis are numerous. Not only do you improve your overall physical condition but being active makes your feel better about yourself mentally as well. Most people who suffer from depression and anxiety do not have the motivation to go out of the house. However, having a dog changes everything. Once you get close to your pet, you will feel the need to help meet your dog’s natural instincts of going out. Whether it is just for a quick walk around the block, or a long hike in nature, any type of exercise with a dog is surely going to alleviate the bad mood and help both you and your furry friend to feel better.
5. Reduction In Medication Consumption
The unconditional love and support that your dog gives you may result in an overall reduction in the use of anti-anxiety or other medication. As a matter of fact, some dogs, especially service or therapy dogs, can feel your increased heart rate and help to prevent an episode of an anxiety attack. Many people notice how their anxiety symptoms ease with time. In fact, they find dog therapy way more effective than any other method. Whether you have an ordinary dog or one trained to help people with mental disorders, the empathy, and love that the dog provides often help people to achieve specific therapeutic goals.
6. Make Fewer Visits To The Doctor
Thanks to the many benefits a dog can have on our mental and physical health, all dog owners, especially senior people with anxiety or other disorders, will make fewer visits to the doctor. It has been estimated that United States pet owners enjoy a not only happier life, but their health care costs reduce significantly. Using a dog as part of your therapy will make you more active, satisfied, and joyful. This will help to prevent frequent visits to your psychiatrist and other doctors (for example, a dog helps to combat allergies, lower high blood pressure, etc). A dog makes you less lonely and provides companionship. Eventually, people with anxiety disorder feel the lesser need to talk to their psychiatrist because they have someone else who understands them all the time.
7. Self-Harm Reduction
In some cases, persons who struggle with anxiety and depression may feel the urge to harm themselves. This action is often connected with a sense of release from overwhelming feelings of worry. People who try to harm themselves often feel angry about the fact they are incapable of dealing with their problems. They see self-harm as a way of fixing problems. Service dogs can be trained to help people reduce self-harm or prevent it from happening at all. For example, if a person tries to scratch or cut themselves, the dog will interrupt the action.
8. Overcome The Feeling Of Purposeless
Getting a dog will help people who feel like their life has little meaning. Dogs are an obligation and they need our assistance. Feeling like there is someone who waits for you to feed them, walk them, or play with them on a daily basis improves one’s sense of purpose and responsibility. People start feeling like they are needed. Also, it has been proved that dogs help with brain chemistry. In fact, dog owners’ brains release serotonin, which is a key hormone that many antidepressants try to increase. Serotonin stabilizes our mood, regulates anxiety, and reduces depression. It helps people to feel emotionally stable.
9. Reduction Of Attacks In Public
If you experience episodes of anxiety or panic attacks in public, you might not feel comfortable going out often, especially alone. Just an idea of leaving the house and going out may be a great challenge for some people and they have to face it on a daily basis. This is when dogs can help a lot. If you have big attack episodes, you might want to consider getting a service dog. It will certainly help you feel way better leaving your home together with support from your pet. As a matter of fact, some dogs may predict their owner’s attack even before it happens. At that moment, the dog will help its owner to find a family member or simply provide comfort. Sometimes, the dog’s actions will help to prevent the owner’s attack from happening at all which will result in feelings of satisfaction and self-confidence.
10. Service Dogs Regulate Or Prevent Episodes
You may wonder how exactly do dogs help humans to prevent or regulate attack episodes. Service dogs are trained to help people with heavy problems deal with their anxiety. Most of the time, service dogs are custom-trained. Professionals who train dogs need to learn what triggers a person’s anxiety and what happens when a person is going through an attack. That said, people who train service dogs teach dogs to point a person under an attack to the nearest exit, find a family member, fetch medication or water, prevent an unknown person to get close, or simply calm its owners down by licking their face or providing them with a paw.
11. Students With Dogs Experience Less Anxiety
It has been demonstrated that dogs help students deal with anxiety throughout their time in university as well. In a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it has been established that university students suffer from distress and anxiety more than the general population. In fact, about 15% of students struggled with anxiety and 11% with depression. In short, the study showed a reduction in feelings of stress and anxiety in students who interacted with dogs in a treatment group with therapy dogs for two months. It is therefore concluded that students who live with dogs, feel better and more satisfied with their lives in general.
12. Easier Socialization And Interaction
People with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) often feel nervous and uncomfortable around people. They experience anxiety and fear during speaking in public. Also, they may think in their heads that their performance is usually worse than it actually is. Other than that, some other symptoms of SAD are fast heartbeat, sweating, trembling, etc. These are all the reasons for which most people with SAD avoid interacting with people, especially if they haven’t met them before. Whether you suffer from mild or heavy anxiety attacks, a dog can be extremely helpful. In fact, not only do dogs take you out of the house and for a walk, but they help you to meet other people. They are icebreakers and help you talk to dog owners. Simply taking your dog for a walk or in the park will boost your mood and give you plenty of opportunities to interact with other people easily.
13. Don’t Feel Lonely Ever Again
Most persons who have problems with anxiety don’t have the energy or will to hang out and communicate with other people which eventually leads to feelings of loneliness and unworthiness. It is a vicious circle because you don’t want to hang out with people, yet you don’t want to feel lonely either. Some of the signals that the feeling of loneliness is in fact a form of your anxiety are turning down invitations to interact or socialize with people and the fear of abandonment by a loved person. Luckily, a dog is a forever friend. It doesn’t require much verbal communication. Even if you don’t feel like leaving the house on a certain day, your furry friend will respect that and provide you with quiet, yet quality company. Most importantly, it will help you to overcome loneliness.
14. Dogs Listen To You
A person who hasn’t experienced anxiety can hardly understand what that is like. It may be hard for most people to support a person with an anxiety disorder. What actually helps a lot is to simply sit by that person and listen without judging. However, most people will probably unintentionally give wrong advice or say things like ”don’t worry” or ”this will never happen”. On the other hand, a dog will never judge you, no matter what you say or do. Your dog will accept you for who you are. He or she will know your deepest secrets and listen to you patiently providing comfort, empathy, and making you feel better.
15. Distraction From Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts accompanied by times of panic and worry are frequent in an anxious person. It often happens that, no matter what you do, you cannot prevent sad thoughts from happening. But with a dog, it is all different. Dogs distract us from our thoughts and take us into their reality. Even if it is just for a while, a dog can help you forget about your problems because he or she needs to be fed or petted. Most people find dog distraction to be great therapy. It is very hard to feel bad about life when your dog is looking at you happily and wagging its tail, right?
16. Help In Boosting Your Mood
You might feel like depression, stress, and fear are constantly present in your life and there is no solution to changing that easily. One thing is for sure. It is not easy. However, it is possible. Simply playing with a dog can elevate the levels of serotonin and dopamine significantly which will help to improve your overall mood. You will start to feel motivated and focused. Although it may take time for some people, your dog will patiently wait and try to make you happy every day. Start with teaching your dog new tricks. It will help you bond even more. Also, once your dog performs the trick you wanted it to learn, you will feel confident and satisfied as well.
17. Keep Up With Your Routine
Routine is very important both for you and your dog. It can help people create good and healthy habits, alleviate stress, and even prevent substance abuse. Also, feeding your dog and taking it out at the same time every day will help with controlling the dog’s metabolism, weight, and set the pace for toilet time. It may happen that on certain days you simply don’t want to wake up from your bed and go anywhere. However, the responsibility that pet owners feel for their dogs and cats is always rewarding. In short, keeping up with your routine may help you sleep better, complete daily tasks with joy, and bring bigger decisions more easily.
18. A Dog Teaches You To Be Responsible
A dog teaches people with anxiety responsibility. Procrastination is a common problem for people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. You may feel like it is never the right time to start working on something because you are afraid that it won’t end up well. Also, you may not want to start doing a stressful task and you keep on worrying about it. Thankfully, a dog teaches you how to take care of it effectively and eventually you learn how to be consistent and understand the world better. Start with keeping up with the routine and set daily and weekly goals. For example, feed your dog and take it out at the same time each morning and evening. Choose a day in the week for longer walks and decide which day your dog will get a bath. Lastly, teach your dog a new trick every week. Once you learn to do all that, you will know how to perform other non-dog-related tasks as well.
19. Find Joy In Life
It is unquestionable that both small and big interactions with dogs cause your brain to produce oxytocin and serotonin. What is even better, living with a dog means that every morning, you will wake up with a pair of happy eyes, wet kisses, and cuddles. This, together with other fun and cute situations dog owners experience in the morning, will make waking up much easier. Also, hanging out with your dog during the day makes you smile more and changes your overall life perspective. Eventually, you are finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
20. Pet-Care Is Self-Care
Once you get a dog, most of the time all you can think about is how to make him or her happier. This means that, if you go to buy your dog food, you will probably buy food for yourself as well. Also, when you feed your lovely furry friend, you may want to sit down and eat as well. A dog teaches us both little and big things that we must appreciate in our lives. For example, to stop worrying about tomorrow, make time for yourself, relax, and simply unplug.
21. Long-Lasting Friendship
In the past years, ScienceDirect carried out an experiment in which they presented dogs with five scents: self scent, strange dog, familiar dog, strange human, and familiar human. Since smell is so important to dogs, scientists assumed that this is the best way to examine how exactly a dog’s brain works. As expected, dogs were most attracted to the scent of the familiar human which, in short, led to the conclusion that dog owners are incredibly important to their dogs. This means that if a person with an anxiety disorder is a dog’s owner, the dog will never betray or leave its owner to suffer alone.
22. A Forever Support And Security
If a person with an anxiety disorder struggles to go out alone without a support of a loved person, a service dog is sure to help its owner to feel more independent. Not only does a dog provide great company, but it also makes its owner feel less limited and restricted to complete everyday tasks. Eventually, the owners start to rely less on human help and start to regain their freedom. Dogs take care of people and motivate them. Also, they help humans to realize they are capable of a change.
23. Increased Trust In People
Another study has shown that pets have positive effects on increasing human-animal and human-human interaction. In fact, having a dog may help you increase trust in other people. The experiments demonstrated that people who have problems with communicating with other people felt less awkward meeting new people if their dog was with them at that moment. Also, just seeing a person accompanied by a dog promotes the perception of a trustworthy person as well. This means that if a person who suffers from anxiety meets another dog owner who is accompanied by his or her pet, it will be easier for that person to say hi or interact.
24. Just Live In The Moment
For most people who struggle with distress, anxiety, and depression it is difficult not to worry or even panic about the future. However, dogs teach us to rediscover joy and mindfulness. They live in present and all they do is enjoy the moment. This is how dogs can help to motivate people to do the same. Try walking your dog in nature and not worry about what will happen afterward. Practice that as much as you can simply allow your dog to take care of you.
Dogs are used not only as pets but also for therapeutic purposes. They make us happy and teach responsibility. It has been shown that therapy and service dogs improve mental health significantly. Simply petting or interacting with a dog increases the levels of the love hormone, and reduces stress. Many people who suffer from an anxiety disorder witnessed making fewer visits to the doctor, once they got a dog. Also, the episodes of anxiety and panic attacks of dog owners reduced with time. Dogs help both young and old. They are here to teach children and adults self-care and how to interact with other people. Other than providing companionship, dogs help people to overcome feelings of loneliness, purposeless and distract from negative thoughts. In the end, it has been shown countless times that dogs are indeed human’s best friends. If you or a person close to you suffer from severe anxiety, learn how to get a service dog. In case you have an experience to share with us, leave a comment and tell us your story.