By Greer Grenley
Depression is a widespread issue in the U.S. affecting about 40 million adults. Fortunately, there are many ways to feel better. Talking to a licensed psychiatrist can make a huge difference and there are so many effective medications out there. Exercise and healthy eating can help too, as can opening up to and spending more time with family members, close friends and pets. In fact: Did you know that dogs can play an integral part in your emotional well-being?
Dogs can contribute to your happiness. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your all-around health. For example, people with dogs have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease—just playing with dogs has been shown to elevate oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.
For someone living with depression, there is so much to gain from having a dog. Here are just a few of the many benefits.
Pets help you lead a healthy lifestyle. Dogs need exercise, which means you’ll be exercising right along with them! Exercise increases endorphins, which fight depression. Because dogs need consistency, you’ll learn how to make exercise a daily routine instead of a once-in-a-while activity. Research has shown that consistency in one’s schedule can help reduce stress levels and lead to better sleep patterns and overall health.
Dogs give you a reason to talk to new people while on walks or at the dog park, which can alleviate the loneliness you might feel in a depressive episode. Socialization with others, especially face-to-face, has been shown to ease symptoms of depression. This is especially true for people aged 50 years or older.
Having a companion can also prevent depression from worsening, especially therapy and service dogs who are constantly in tune to your needs. Caring for an animal gives you purpose, makes you feel wanted and helps take focus away from your depression.
Dogs can be a lot to handle, but research shows that responsibility helps your mental health. Some psychologists say that you build self-esteem by taking ownership and applying skills to a specific task. Taking care of a dog offers reassurance that you can care for another creature and for yourself.
If you love dogs but can’t commit to or afford one, try dog-sitting! Sites and apps like Rover.com allow you to do everything from short walks and check-ins to daycare and dog boarding. It’s worth a try. Because not only can dogs make you feel better, but the responsibilities entailed in the human-canine relationship can provide important structural and social benefits that lessen the burden of depression.
Dogs bring happiness into your life, and depression is often no match for the unconditional love they provide.
Greer Grenley is a part-time dog writer and full-time dog lover. She lives in Seattle where she can be seen out-and-about with her Aussiedoodle, George.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Find Your Local NAMI