There are days I feel I can’t cope. I go through the motions when I just want to curl up somewhere and disappear. Outwardly, I appear strong and in control. Inside, fears and lonliness can sometimes consume me. These are my dark days. These are the days Kirby, my heart dog, reminds me of God’s love and gives me strength.
Did you know nearly 40% of households in the United States own at least one dog. One good reason may just be that they serve as a natural antidepressant. Dog owners are less likely to experience feelings of depression, or reduced levels of depression thanks to their relationships with their canines.
I read a study whose main finding was that dogs do not add to their owners depression meaning that there is no downside to possessing a dog. The data also revealed that single adults and women are less likely to suffer from depression if they own a dog. The same is not true for men and married couples because men tend to form less emotional attachments to their pets and married individuals seek more support from their partner rather than their canine. It might be time to change the old saying from “A dog is a man’s best friend” to “A dog is a woman’s best friend.”
Studies continue to show that animals can reduce tension and improve mood. The fact is dogs can actually help some people with mild to moderate depression feel better. Consider these benefits if you suffer from depression or lonliness.
- Unconditional love - You don't have to worry about hurting your dog's feelings or getting advice you don't want. A dog doesn't care about what you do or don't have, what you look like, or what you may think your faults are.
- Responsibility - Taking care of a dog adds a positive focus to your life by giving you a sense of your own value and importance reminding you that you are capable and that you can do more than you might think.
- Activity - A good way to fight depression is to get more physical activity which is another way a dog can help. A dog needs to be walked, a dog needs interaction. That extra physical activity is good for your physical and mental health.
- Routine - Having a daily schedule definitely helps. An animal's natural routine such as waking you in the morning, demanding food, or needing to go outside can help you stay on track.
- Companionship - Depression can become isolating causing you to pull back from your friends and loved ones. However, with a dog you are never alone which can make all the difference.
- Social interaction - A dog can gently push you to get more social contact. You might chat with others while at the dog park or waiting at the vet’s office. Dogs are natural icebreakers since other pet owners love to talk about their animals.
- Touch - A dog can offer the physical contact people crave. Dogs love to be petted and stroking them provides a soothing feeling for both the dog and you.
- Better health - Research has proven owning a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain. One study found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, reported better fitness levels with fewer sick days, and saw their doctors less often than people without dogs.
Dogs offer so much that can help people with depression. Some people who deal with high levels of depression and anxiety have certified service dogs to help them. Milder symptoms can still become overwhelming. So on those dark days, hug your dog and know you’ll have brighter days very soon. If you don’t have a dog, consider adopting a shelter dog so you can give a needy dog as much happiness as it will give you.