International Dog Day: 5 ways dogs can help us deal with depression and anxiety
- People suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety could benefit from the company of a dog.
For many pet parents, their furry companions are their ultimate source of joy. They can go on and on about the time spent with them and the happiness they add to their lives. Especially in the times of coronavirus pandemic, when everything is still and lacklustre, presence of a dog in the house can improve mood of those around. Numerous studies have found how a dog can sense the mood and emotions of its owner, and that itself is a comforting feeling.
People suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety could benefit from the company of a dog as their unconditional love and touch could bring down stress levels and release happy hormones.
Health experts across the world have acknowledged the positive effects of a pet in a person's life.
Emotional support animals or psychiatric assistance dogs are widely accepted as complementary therapy along with traditional counselling and treatment for patients with mental disorders. Trained by experts, these animals can provide the necessary support and safety to their handlers, says Dr. Neha Patel, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital.
Here are five benefits of a dog for patients suffering from mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
1. They give you emotional support: The lives of our pets revolve around us and they do make us special with their random acts. The unconditional love we feel from them is rare and that is the reason everyone needs a pet in their lives.
"Most dog-owners perceive the bonding with their pets as unconditional and thus completely reliable. When such individuals experience severe symptoms of depression such as loneliness, sadness or of anxiety such as fear, nervousness, the dogs—due to the bonding, acts as the calming source of emotional support. Dog owners are thus less likely to need emergency clinical assistance as compared to other patients of mental disorders," says Dr. Patel.
"Stroking the fur, feeling the temperature of a dog provides emotional relief and stimuli, particularly in these challenging lockdown times," says Richa Agnihotri, Wellness Consultant: Emotional Well-being and Energy Healing at Fazlani Natures Nest.
2. Exercise and movement: People who suffer from depression and anxiety are advised by doctors to stay active and indulge in some physical activity. Having a dog ensures you would go on walks with them or play with them. "Depressive individuals are likely to restrict their movements, which in turn starts the cycle of low energy requirement, consumption and lethargy. Dogs are active, playful and more likely to force their handlers to move, exercise and go on walks. Exercise and repeated exposure to the society helps depressive individuals recover faster," adds Dr. Patel.
3. They help you build a routine: One of the reasons of increasing cases of mental health issues in pandemic might be lack of a structure day and routine. But when you a dog around, you have to build a schedule to take care of your furry friend. "Individuals with mental disorders are more likely to lead an undisciplined and unscheduled life which delays recovery and feeds the disorder. Introducing a dog in the lives of such individuals can mould their day into a routine. While keeping track of baths, walks, feeds and playtime, such individuals automatically become more disciplined and active," according to Dr. Patel.
4. Reduces stress and loneliness: Touch and movement play a vital role in stress management. Stroking a dog or being in close contact with him helps to lower blood pressure and relieves the symptoms of anxiety, as per Dr. Patel.
"Oxytocin in an important hormone in humans that bring down the stress levels and helps the body to fight pain. It also promotes growth and healing. It stimulates positive social interactions," says Agnihotri.
5. They help you grow your social circle: Individuals with mental disorders are commonly reclusive and refuse to interact with new people. However, dogs can play the role of social lubricant as dog owners often stop and speak with each-other. New social interactions can enhance the sense of belongingness which can help in some mental disorders, says Dr. Patel.