Guest Post by Jennifer Scott
Dogs are often thought of as “man’s best friend.” This is especially true with individuals who are suffering from decreased mental health. Therapy dogs or “comfort dogs” have the job of supporting a person who is suffering from a mental disorder by providing comfort and attention. Therapy dogs often have very sweet demeanors and are full of love to give. They often live in homes, but they are also available to visit people in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and hospice homes. Because they are patient and unbothered by strangers hugging them, they can improve the mental health of just about anyone.
Read on below to see how therapy dogs can positively impact mental health and give you a better outlook on life.
Therapy dogs are known to be positive mood boosters for anyone suffering from autism, bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, PTSD, and Alzheimer’s disease. This is because interacting with dogs can raise levels of oxytocin and dopamine, which are the feel-good hormones in our body. A dog has a way of adding unconditional love to your life, even if you’re suffering from a mental disorder. Dogs fulfill the basic human need of touch. In fact, they love to be pet, which only encourages us. Even when we’re stressed, just petting a dog can rapidly calm us down.
A side effect of a lot of different types of mental disorders is anxiety. Anyone with anxiety knows how hard it is to control. Therapy dogs can help with that because they decrease stress. Being around a trained cat or dog can lower your blood pressure, which is a big physical measure of stress. When you own a dog, you also get more exercise than people who don’t own a dog. That’s because you’re constantly taking your dog out for walks or outside to play. Exercise can help you greatly reduce stress and depression. Pets also help you stay in the moment and keep your focus on the now instead of worrying about past or future events.
Low mental health can make you feel lonely. Therapy dogs can change that. Not only do pets provide companionship, but they encourage friendly interactions with others, which can lower your levels of depression. Pets change your perception of others -- and their perception of you. Pets make you appear more approachable, and in turn, you view anyone who has a pet to be more approachable. Dogs provide a great ice breaker when meeting strangers.
Whether you’re taking your dog on a walk or going to play fetch in the park, one thing is for sure: dogs get you outside. This is crucial when you’re suffering from low mental health because sun and fresh air can help elevate your mood, along with vitamin D exposure that you probably need. Vitamin D helps fight mental conditions, including depression. Getting outside also exposes you to nature, which has a way of calming us down. Taking a deep breath outside while taking in the view can help us stay present in the moment and give us a sense of calm.
Don’t Forget to Pet-Proof Your Home and Yard
You want your home to be safe for your therapy dog, so make sure to pet-proof it before you bring them home. This includes cleaning up any clutter around your home, putting any meditations in cabinets, putting away toxic chemicals, and keeping foods and plants out of reach. Pet-proofing your home also means making sure your backyard is safe for your pet. Choose dog-safe flowers and plants for your yard. Also, secure your trash cans and garbage from your pet. If you have a swimming pool, be sure to put a fence around it.
Talk to Your Pet
Above all else, if you ever feel like you have to get something off your chest but don’t want to confide in anyone close to you, your dog or cat can be a great listener. You can talk to your pet about your daily struggles, your hopes, your fears -- anything. And, they won’t judge you. It can be a great option for people who are too afraid to bring up issues to their family or friends.
Jennifer Scott has experienced anxiety and depression since she was a teenager. She shares stories about the ups and downs of her anxiety and depression at http://spiritfinder.org/
Image: Julia Janeta, Unsplash.com