7 Ways Dogs Help Fight Depression, Anxiety, and More

mental health dog

Even for someone who doesn’t consider themself to be a dog person, looking at a cute puppy’s face can still feel a bit irresistible—and there is a scientific reason behind this. It evokes in us an innate mechanism for caretaking, just as it would if we looked at a human infant’s face. But, beyond this, there are numerous reasons why so many people are naturally drawn to having the companionship of dogs. In a nutshell, it comes down to the many benefits our furry four-legged friends have for our mental health and physical well-being.

Here are 7 ways having a dog—or spending time with one—can help you feel better:

1. Dogs help you exercise.

Because they tend to have a lot of energy—especially when they are younger—dogs need to be physically active, and they rely on you for this. Going out for walks together helps to benefit your physical fitness, plus exercise causes the release of hormones called endorphins, which can reduce feelings of depression. Getting regular exercise can also help you sleep.

2. They can lower your blood pressure.

One of the earlier studies on the positive effects of interacting with dogs was published in 1988 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. The researchers found that talking to a dog lowered blood pressure, but petting a dog lowered it even more. Over the decades, clinical research has continued to support the link between having a dog and better heart health. In fact, a research study published in 2019 found that having a dog was associated with overall lower mortality—even for people who’d had a prior coronary event. In general, anything that’s good for your heart is also good for the brain.

3. Dogs help with stress management.

Because of their natural ability to provide comfort—especially when your anxiety gets triggered or you are feeling stressed out, being with a dog can help your muscles relax, slow down your breathing, and lower your heart rate. It also decreases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Overall, they make you feel calmer. This ability to help reduce stress is also evident in the way that trained service dogs can help reduce symptoms in people who suffer with

4. You feel less lonely.

Having a dog provides near-constant companionship, which is especially helpful for anyone who lives alone or tends to feel isolated from others. A dog’s need to be petted, brushed, or just sit close to you can help alleviate feelings of loneliness by letting you know you aren’t alone.

Dogs also make it more comfortable for you to connect with other people, which is very helpful for someone who has social anxiety. Whether you’re taking a walk or at a dog park, they can make it easier to strike up a conversation because you have something in common to chat about with others. Loneliness and depression tend to go hand-in-hand, so being out and about with your pup can help alleviate some of the blues.

5. A dog gives you a sense of purpose.

Because you love your dog and he or she loves you back—maybe even more—you are motivated to nurture and take care of your pooch. This sense of responsibility makes you feel wanted and can improve your mental health by reducing depression, increasing your self-esteem, and providing an important sense of meaning for you.

Being responsible for taking care of your dog makes you feel wanted and can improve your mental health by reducing depression, increasing your self-esteem, and providing an important sense of meaning for you. Click To Tweet

6. Dogs help you feel happy.

Whether by virtue of their silly and mischievous antics, natural joyfulness, and the fact that they love to have fun, dogs have a way of making even the crankiest person crack a smile. When you play with your dog, your brain releases the chemicals dopamine and serotonin, which can make you feel better. And, when you laugh or smile at something funny your dog does, you get another boost of these happy chemicals.

7. Dogs love unconditionally.

Many years ago, a comedienne said, “I’m going to marry the first man who looks at me the way my dog does when I walk in the door at night.” Everyone wants to believe they matter to others, and dogs can provide us with things that sometimes our human companions cannot. For example:

  • Regardless of your circumstances, your dog will never judge you.
  • You will always be your dog’s best friend.
  • Your dog will forgive you quickly.
  • You are everything to your dog.
  • And, even on days when you are feeling bad about yourself, your dog will still think you hung the moon.

Dogs have a natural way of helping to reduce stress and anxiety, lift our spirits, provide a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection, and improve our physical health. Even if you aren’t able to have one of your own, you can still reap the benefits by spending time with friendly dogs in your neighborhood or even volunteering at the local animal shelter. It’s a win-win for both you and the canine who gets to savor your undivided and adoring attention.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

4 Comments

  1. Love all the info you have been giving me. I’m so fascinated with the information you show me.

    Comment by Dorothy Reynolds — August 26, 2021 @ 1:07 PM

  2. My little dogs have done all of the above for me. They got me thru the death of my beloved husband, they are getting me thru this pandemic where I must isolate due to my age and health issues, and they are always a comfort and joy. Dogs and other animals understand and know much more than most humans, even scientists, give them credit for. They deserve much more appreciation, kind regard, and kindness in this world.

    Comment by C — August 27, 2021 @ 7:05 AM

  3. As the proud parent of six cats, I can confirm that felines provide the same benefits listed above as dogs aside from, perhaps, #1. My cats are wonderful companions, and they have supported me through many ups and downs in my life.

    Comment by Ellen — August 27, 2021 @ 2:59 PM

  4. I am a Senior.I have had cats and dogs in the past,but after my retirement I had neither.I asked my son to be on the lookout for a small dog asa companion for me.He showed up one day,opened his truck door and out jumped a cute little Yorkie.She ran up to me ,rolled over on her back for a belly rub,I knew she was the One!We had 8 great years together but she had numerous health problems.She passed away over a year ago,I still look around for her,of course realizing she is not here.I can’t afford another like her,she cost more than I spent on my 3 children all their young lives at home. But I do miss her so much! And I do believe an animal is such a great companion for older individuals.I never felt alone like I do now.She was perfect!💜

    Comment by Frances — September 13, 2021 @ 7:24 AM

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