Depression is a detrimental and serious condition that affects millions of people in the U.S. alone. It can take over your life and even lead you to take your own life, leaving your loved ones with unanswered questions, pain, and feelings of guilt. I am no stranger to the effects of depression and the way it can lead to self-destructive behavior and seeking mind altering substances to cope with those feelings. I know first hand through my own experiences and the experiences of the people around me that it is not only important to address and combat this condition, but that you and I are not alone in feeling hopeless or worthless, or angry at the world, or like nothing matters.
There are many ways of combatting depression, from prescribed medication, to experimental medication, to lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, getting more sunlight, spending time with loved ones, playing, or even sticking to a routine. And in many of these ways, a dog can help.
First and foremost, dogs are cute, especially when they’re puppies. And something cool happens in our brains when we see something adorable, it lights up, triggering the areas of our brain most believed to be responsible for our feelings of compassion, empathy, reward and pleasure, while reducing stress, anxiety, annoyance, and anger. Looking at your own cute pupper can have even stronger effects! Seeing cute things can also make you more productive and precise in your decision making and job performance. The ongoing theory is that these reactions are due to our natural instinct for nurturing, evolved from our need to take care of our babies and children for an extended period of time as compared to most other creatures on this planet.
Petting a dog can also have beneficial effects on our brains, raising levels of dopamine and oxytocin which are known to increase motivation and desire and help produce feelings of intimacy, belonging, and trust. These are very good emotions for fending off depression and giving you an overall sense of belonging and contentment. As you can see, simply being around dogs and interacting with them in simple ways can have a profound effect on your mood, but there’s even more.
Dogs love to play. And play usually means some kind of physical activity, whether it’s tug or fetch, running around the yard, or just going for a walk. Owning a dog can help motivate you to exercise more regularly, which has been proven to increase levels of health, happiness, satisfaction, and overall well-being.
Exercise releases many of those same “feel good” chemicals in your brain that were mentioned before, and more and in greater amounts. It can also grant you a feeling of accomplishment at having done something challenging and succeeding. It increases your energy levels, and keeps many of your vital organs healthy and strong. It can also give you the feeling of satisfaction at having done something good for yourself, which is very important in battling depression.
Dogs need the exercise as much as you do, and they aren’t afraid to show it. Having a soft, furry, bundle of energy around can really help you to get on your feet and get moving, whether it’s tossing the ball for a bit outside, soaking up the sunlight, or taking a walk down a wooded trail. Getting sunlight, and walking in the woods are also two very good ways to improve your health and your mood.
Dogs can help you get into a routine. My Maple doesn’t let me sleep past 7AM anymore, not even on the weekends. She’s ready for me to get up and feed her, and she doesn’t like to wait. Then, she’s all up in my business come 5PM to get her dinner. She knows we’re gonna walk sometime before noon before it starts to get too hot outside, and she knows when it’s bedtime.
Dogs have excellent internal clocks and depend on routine. They love it! And as it turns out, having a simple daily routine can help you avoid the pitfalls that come with depression, such as laying in bed all day, binge watching T.V., and eating too much or not eating at all. Keeping to a regular sleeping schedule does wonders for your energy levels which in turn does wonders in your fight against depression, and a dog can help you maintain that schedule quite effectively.
I’ve talked previously about how much responsibility is involved with owning a dog. Well, that shouldn’t be a deterrent, because it turns out that being responsible for something important is an excellent way to give your life purpose, and to grant you a sense of fulfillment.
Dogs require a lot of attention and care, but we are rewarded for attending to and taking care of them through the emotions they elicit in us. They bring us joy and happiness, and a sense of purpose and fulfillment, which are quite the opposite from depression which makes people feel unhappy, joyless, unfulfilled, and like life has no meaning.
It’s no surprise that dogs are the most common pet in the U.S., but they are also the most common type of emotional support animal. They have an innate ability to sense our emotions, and any dog owner can tell you that when they feel bad, their dog is right there to comfort them. Dogs can read our emotions, and even have a wide range of ways to convey their own emotions to us. Dogs are highly intelligent and emotional creatures, and know when we need some comfort and affection.
If those weren’t enough reasons to believe that dogs can help with depression, I have one more big one. They provide companionship. Some studies suggest that loneliness and isolation can be as damaging to your health as smoking almost an entire pack of cigarettes a day. If you’re living in the same world as I am, then you’ve probably noticed an increase in people isolating, and in turn, an increase in negative emotions and behavior.
Dogs are humanity’s best friend, and they are called that for a reason. Dogs are great friends. They listen when you talk to them, although they might not understand everything you’re saying, they can grasp a certain understanding through tone and inflection. Dogs love to be around us, and crave our attention and approval. Dogs need humans as much as humans need dogs. We’ve been together as friends for longer than history can record. We still don’t know when dogs were first domesticated as pets, because it was so long ago. Dogs are there for us when nobody else can be, and that can have a profound affect on your outlook on life.
It should be pretty clear by now how much of a positive effect on your life a dog can have. They are cute, wonderful, energetic little miracles and there’s a reason people love them so much worldwide. If you’re suffering from depression and feelings of loneliness, it might be a good idea to look into adopting a fur friend for yourself.
As always, I wish my readers the best in their lives. I want you all to find hope, health, and happiness in your lives. Please take good care of yourself and your fur friends. And, if you’ve found this article to be helpful, please leave a like, comment anything you might want to add to the discussion, share with your friends, and check out the Pupper Blog’s other social media pages for more content and lots of cute pictures to brighten up your day!