How Dogs Help With Our Mental Healing
Although considered as man's best friend, they can also be a man's great healer. How can dogs help in our mental well-being? Read to find out more.
Ever notice how people's faces brighten up when an adorable pup passes by? Or how videos of funny dogs catch our attention and brighten our day? It turns out that this isn't mere observation and experience--there are scientific studies that show how dogs can actually help relieve stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns in humans.
Aside from their seemingly obvious cute faces and funny antics, how do dogs actually help us in our mental healing?
Dogs are capable of "canine empathy".
Dogs are not just aware about their own feelings, but they also care and notice if we are happy or sad. This term is called "canine empathy", which is rather a simpler form of empathy more elaborated as an emotional contagion. They can read through their human's faces, tone of voice, and other nonverbal behaviors which help them react in ways to provide comfort, support, or a source of entertainment.
Although empathy is a complex term, and dogs cannot verbally express if they do feel these emotions in actuality, it is comforting to know that they can read through the ways we show our feelings and find ways to give us love.
Dogs can help relieve stress.
Stress is a risk factor for many physical and mental ailments. Studies show that chronic stress can lead to many conditions such as heart ailments, stroke, and personality disorders. Although there are many ways to cope, one of the long-term and evidence-based strategies for stress relief is through owning a pet.
A 2001 study showed that hypertensive patients who owned dogs as pets are able to maintain lower levels compared to patients who are not dog owners. Additionally, there were also Alzheimer's patients in a 2008 study who reported that they found therapy dogs beneficial to their mental well-being.
Excessive cortisol levels in the body due to stress can trigger or aggravate mental and physical diseases. As cortisol levels become lower in the company of dogs, this is one of the ways with how these lovely furry creatures help in our overall wellness.
Dogs can encourage physical activity.
Mental healing isn't just about confining yourself in empty spaces or meditating all day. In fact, there are mental health benefits when people regularly engage in physical activity. During exercise, neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are released--these are considered that "feel good" chemicals of the body. Physical activities are indeed a healthier way to have these neurochemicals rather than alcohol and drugs.
Many active dog breeds such as Siberian Huskies, Labrador Retrievers, and Border Collies are great companions for physical activities. They would always wag their tails, ready to explore the great outdoors with you. Not only will you enjoy the benefits of exercise, you will also have a great company who barely feels tired!
Dogs can help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Aside from stress, depression is another mental health concern that affects many of us. Around 300 million people in the world are diagnosed with depression, and this does not include the numbers of people who may be hiding behind the shadows and struggling due to the negative stigma of this condition.
Aside from physical activity and socialization opportunities that dogs bring, they can also help in easing depression symptoms through the "responsibility" they bring. When pet owners feel responsible for their dogs, they feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Responsibility is vital for our well-being because it provides self-worth and ability to continuously strive to improve our roles. Many owners call their dogs the "light of their lives". They don't just bring the sense of responsibility, but dogs also provide people with the joy that comes along with fulfilling the role of a pet owner.
Dogs love their owners.
Perhaps the most touching of all reasons why dogs help in our mental healing is the fact that they love us! Their loyalty and care for us are unmatched. This isn't just based on experience or anecdotes from owners. There is a study that proved that dogs rely on humans more than their own kind of affection and their needs. When dogs get attached to their owners, they consider them as family.
Many people who suffer from mental health concerns often feel isolated. This isolation causes them to withdraw, avoiding to seek help and treatment. It is such a good feeling to know that dogs are capable of loving their owners regardless of their mental well-being--that's just their nature!
Love your mental health, love a dog
If you are finding ways to care for your mental health, these reasons may hopefully convince you to adopt a loving dog. As you decide to care for your dog, not only will your relationship be built on the benefits, but also the love and companionship that you will share for life.