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The Healing Power of Dogs: How our dogs helped us battle Anxiety and Depression

Feb 20, 2023
 

The Healing Power of Dogs: How our dogs helped us battle Anxiety and Depression

For those of you who know me well, there’s a very good chance you know my wife Julie and perhaps even her well documented battle with anxiety and depression over the past several years. I say ‘well documented’ as she’s been keeping a daily blog for the past 1050 days without missing a day (well, maybe one or two). 

Her blog started in a bid to document life during the pandemic but morphed into a self-reflection diary on her transformation from her darkest days, to battling her way into the light and emerging victorious against what was a mentally crippling time of her life. She can be found at The Rambling Sloth

We were looking through old videos of our dogs and came across a few she took when ‘glued’ to what was known as ‘grans chair’ (long story).  This often was the place she sat from morning to night, with no inclination to move, speak to anyone, or even be seen by anyone while I was out at work.

It got us to thinking how much of an impact the dogs had on her during this time and did they help in her recovery?

This video was taken during these dark days, the giggles and laughter, a rare (but not completely absent) sound in our house for such a long time brought on because of the company of our three dogs, Calaidh, Bhruic and Freya.

How could they help?  Dogs can’t speak! Dogs are demanding! They need attention!

It’s proven in many studies and more importantly in our own personal observations that simply being in the company of dogs can also provide significant mental health benefits for people who are struggling with anxiety and depression.

Among other things dogs offer us their unconditional love and acceptance, which can be a powerful antidote to feelings of low self-esteem, loneliness, and isolation. They don’t judge and never criticise, very comforting for people who are struggling with negative thoughts and feelings.

Petting a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol resulting in reduce stress levels.

They help increase social interaction, simply taking your dog for a walk can lead to conversations with neighbours, other dog walkers or even just getting out and reflecting on the day with your dog. (I’ve certainly been ‘caught’ talking to my dogs when out and about). 

Even if you can’t face a walk, the risk of meeting people which in itself can be a very stressful thing depending on your mood the company of a dog, just having them close brings a sense of calm to what may be an overworked mind. This encourages mindfulness and relaxation.

Focusing on the present moment and the sensory experience of petting a dog can help to reduce racing thoughts and feelings of anxiety.

Dogs can be playful and engaging, which can provide a welcome distraction from negative thoughts and feelings. They can also be humorous and bring joy and laughter into their owners' lives. Just look at this video.

Simply being in the company of dogs can provide many mental health benefits for people struggling with anxiety and depression. Whether it's cuddling up with our loving doggo or taking a walk with a wagging tail, dogs can offer comfort, companionship, and a welcome distraction from the stresses of daily life.