If you have ever lived in a household with pets, then I’m sure you’ll agree how easy it is to see the overwhelmingly positive effect they have on an environment and the amount of fun and affection they can bring. What may not be quite as obvious, is the positive effects they are having on both your physical and mental health.
Looking specifically at dogs, it has been shown they can reduce high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and even improve cardiovascular health. Dogs provide the perfect amount of both security, companionship, and unconditional love.
Mental health is becoming more and more talked about, and rightly so, looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. Mental health supports our ability to have healthy relationships, handle changing circumstances in life and maintain good physical health and well-being and overall improve your quality of life. Having an adoring dog that never fails to leave you with the belief that you are loved, consequently reducing feelings of loneliness and depression.
Part of the reason dogs have such a therapeutic effect on us, is because they satisfy the basic human need to touch. The act of hugging or stroking a dog, for most, can be enormously calming and soothing when we’re anxious or stressed. In an extensive study carried out by Dr Andrea Beetz found that Oxytocin was released when eye contact was made between dog and human, but a greater amount was released during physical interactions, and played a visible role in the Oxytocin-mediated decrease of stress levels. In the same studies, she found that isolated meetings with new animals will trigger the release of Oxytocin, but not to the same extent of the more potent and long term effects that come from frequent exposure to Oxytocin from having an animal around the house. Along with Oxytocin, a number of other beneficial hormones that are linked to wellbeing were released – such as dopamine, serotonin, beta endorphin and prolactin. The release of these hormones not only make people happy—but they also decrease the stress hormone, cortisol. This is an especially significant finding with regards to the treatment of clinically depressed patients.
If you were lucky enough to grow up with a dog through your childhood, then it’s more than likely you had yourself a best friend. Growing up with a loyal dog that provides affection and companionship can aid children with self-esteem by giving them a constant feeling of importance and the notion that they are loved, this feeling of importance can also come from added responsibilities such as remembering to feed, walk and clean up after the dog, which can offer a sense of fulfilment that might not come from school or other aspects of their life.
I personally can remember being 8 years old and teaching my dog to ‘shake hands’. Managing to get an animal who I obviously couldn’t communicate via my words, to learn a word and comprehend what the action he was meant to complete seemed a virtually impossible task, largely because my dog would never have been regarded as a genius by any means. But somehow, together we got to the point where on cue, without fail he would happily lift his paw and drop it in mine. The two things my 8 year old self got out of that training, was the concept of perseverance and immense joy.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’ve reached a point with enough scientific evidence to say that our mental health is a crucial aspect of our overall health and welfare, and I can say with enough confidence that having a dog as a pet contributes sizeably to one’s own happiness and well-being.
In all seriousness, how can this not make you smile?