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I had planned on writing this post for about a week. I sat down to get started yesterday evening and noticed that our new puppy, Elle, had a lump on the side of her face. We immediately realized she must have been stung by a bee. Within minutes, her eyes started to swell. She was visibly uncomfortable, rubbing her face on the ground as if she was trying to scratch an itch. We dropped everything and rushed her to the nearest vet. On the way there, I was panicked. I could feel my anxiety level rising yet I couldn’t help but laugh. Not because of the situation of course, but because of the irony of it all. Here I was, about to write about the ways that having a dog can help with my anxiety and I was on my way to a panic attack, because of that same beautiful dog.
So… Do Dogs Help People With Anxiety?
Obviously, getting a dog didn’t magically cure my panic disorder, but I can see why so many people believe that having a dog can help people with both anxiety and depression.
When I feel a panic attack coming on, the best thing anyone can do is distract me. They say the best way to fight anxiety is to live your life. Find a hobby that holds your attention, or an activity that you can become absorbed in. Could there be a better, sweeter distraction than a dog? Whether you are feeding, petting, walking or just enjoying your new companion, you are distracting yourself from any fears that may build in your head. You can’t worry about anything if you’re too busy living and loving.
While a similar argument could be made for people, dogs provide protection and comfort, without the drama that people usually present. This is especially necessary for those suffering from anxiety. The unconditional love you get from a dog can’t help but make you happy. Research also shows oxytocin is released and stress hormones decrease when we are petting a dog. For me, petting Elle calms me down. For those moments, I’m only thinking of her and not overwhelming myself with my chores, my worries or my fears.
Dogs aren’t able to do most things for themselves, so there is always a sense of urgency for the people who take care of them. They need to be fed, walked, bathed, brushed, etc. Having these daily tasks to do, gives their owners a sense of feeling needed and gives them a purpose. Having this routine can completely change the mindset of someone who suffers from anxiety or depression.
Research shows that regular exercise can increase serotonin levels in your brain, lower your blood pressure and help you sleep better. All of these things help your overall mood and can help lower your anxiety level. For me, the problem was making the time to do the exercise. Having a dog has introduced an exercise routine into my life that I have to make time for. Whether we are walking around the block, running around the yard, playing fetch or tossing a frisbee, having a dog means you are exercising daily and most of the time, you don’t even realize it.
Update on Elle
I’m happy to report that Elle is feeling much better today. The swelling has gone down considerably and we know what to do if she should happen to get stung again (but let’s hope those bees keep their distance). I should mention that my Mama bear feelings took over my feelings of anxiety quickly, especially once we arrived at the veterinarian’s office. All I could think about was making sure she felt safe and was well taken care of. Elle has become like another child to me and I’m so grateful for all of the lessons she’ll teach me and the love that she has and will bring to our family.
If you suffer from anxiety, do you find that a pet helps keep you grounded? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you!
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