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How dogs can help mental health

Our dogs are the centre of our lives, and they bring us so much joy while asking for nothing in return. For many, they are the one thing that connects them to the outside world, as well as the only one they have to confide in. Writer, Will Tottle, looks at the strong importance of canine companionship for mental health

by Psychologies

Much of the time, we have a stronger bond with our dogs than we do with people, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they never judge you – even on your worst days. Dogs can be a massive help when it comes to dealing with mental health issues, and here are a few of the ways they can make life easier.

Anxiety

It’s a horrible thing to have, and it can leave you feeling crippled with fear at the most (seemingly) random times. While anxiety and the way it presents itself is different for everyone, there is one thing that stays the same.

Hugging your dog releases oxytocin in your body, and this is the hormone that lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and can help you to feel calmer. Stroking them has the same effect, giving you the comfort you need to know that everything is going to be ok and that you are not dying.

Depression

Like many mental health conditions, depression comes on more of a spectrum than anything, and there are varying levels that people can feel. Much of the time, it leaves us without a routine, motivation, or even the desire to care for ourselves in the most basic ways.

Your dog will force you into a structured routine where they need to be walked, fed, watered, let outside, and played with. Even if you don’t feel like caring for yourself, you have to care for them, and the rewarding feeling that comes from it can help to boost your mood and get you back on track.  

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Borderline personality disorder is a grossly misunderstood issue, and one that many people battle with on a daily basis. Intense feelings of abandonment, impulsive behaviour, and sudden mood swings are just some of the things that leave sufferers feeling mentally and physically shattered.

Dogs love you unconditionally, and they will never abandon you. Instead, they stay with you in a non-judgemental fashion and will be there for you when you need them most. They have a soothing nature that can calm episodes of rage and leave you feeling more relaxed and less anxious. In many ways, they are like a little mood stabiliser.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

There are a number of things that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, but each way results in very similar effects. Flashbacks where they vividly relive traumatic events, coupled with night terrors, are just some of the reasons why those with PTSD find it so hard to function.

Dogs have been proven as an effective form of therapy, and their presence can leave you feeling more secure in your environment as they will let you know if anything is wrong. The release of oxytocin when stroking them has a calming effect on the mind, and they provide the perfect way to start learning how to trust others again, as a dog will never betray you.  

Your dog can help you through more than you might think, and the conditions listed here are just some of the ones that benefit from canine companionship. The bond between you and your dog is strong, and you might be surprised to discover just how sensitive they are to your emotions. So next time things are getting on top of you, go and give your pooch a long hug.

This article is just a snapshot of more detailed reseach by Will Tottle. You can read the dog owners guide: “How dogs can help with mental health – Mind boosting benefits of dog ownership” at dogowner.co.uk

You can also follow Will on Facebook and Twitter

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Image: Getty Images

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