I love dogs. I’ve loved them since I was a child. I’ve always been surrounded by animals. My Nans next door neighbour had a golden Labrador, Rosie, who used to let herself into my nans house. I loved her, we were the best of friends and when she died I was devastated. That’s when I turned to my Mum and begged for a dog. It took me 7 years or promising to walk it, train it and being up to the responsibility of looking after a tiny little bundle of joy, but I wore her down. And on 18th January 2009, I became the proud owner of an 8 week old tri-coloured Beagle. At this age, I hadn’t been diagnosed with anxiety, but I was showing symptoms. And I really believe that getting my dog, Louie, helped me massively.
He’s now nearly 9 years old, and I’ve never loved anything more. Through looking after him for 9 years I’ve experienced first-hand how he has reduced my anxiety. So here are 5 ways dogs help reduce anxiety.
1) They know when something’s wrong
My dog can always tell when I’m upset and anxious. No matter what he’s doing, if he can feel the nervousness on me, he’ll always come and sit on top of me and start licking me. Or he’ll bring me a chew toy and we’ll play for a bit. It’s a real comfort to know that even when I don’t want to confide in my friends or family, there’s someone who just knows when I’m not feeling right and does his best to distract me.
2) They’re great listeners
The best way to relieve stress and anxiety is to talk about it. But often, people don’t want offload on friends or family. This is where dogs come in. They won’t judge, and you can talk as much as you like without being interrupted. And if you have a good relationship with your dog, you really feel like you’re talking to a friend. Especially when they react like a human would, it never fails to amuse me when my dog sighs when I start talking to him!
3) They encourage touch
There lots of evidence which suggests that touch can reduce the level of cortisol, the stress hormone. Hugging floods the body with oxytocin, a hormone which lowers your heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels. It just so happens that dogs love attention. They loved to be stroked and cuddled. Especially my dog, who attached himself to me when we got him and has yet to let go. Just petting a dog for 10 minutes can significantly reduce stress.
4) They give you a purpose
Dogs are very needy. They depend on you to exercise them, feed them, and keep them healthy. Having a routine for your dog forces you into life. When you have someone depending on you, it’s difficult to ignore the them and retreat into your own head. Although you might not want to take your dog on a walk when you’re feeling anxious, it might just be the best thing for it. When you workout, your body releases endorphins which interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
5) They offer a soothing presence
When I was younger I hated going into school, it used to fill me with dread. But when we had Louie, he was so young that we couldn’t leave him at home, so we used to take him with us. This made me feel a whole lot better, it was like having moral support. My Mum also brought him with her when she came to pick me up, which meant I always had something to look forward to, and used to keep me feeling calm throughout the day as I knew I’d see him soon. Just having him near me always used to calm me down, and it still does.
How does your dog help with anxiety? Leave a comment below!
Edited by Viveca Shearin