In November 2010, I was diagnosed with stress related anxiety and depression. It wasn’t the first time I have been diagnosed with this psychological illness, so I was able to recognise the warning signs quite early on. Although anti-depressants and even their herbal equivalents are a good way to treat short-term depression, I knew from having suffered before I needed to look at a more long-term solution to my problem! For me the answer was to turn to man’s best friend… I purchased a dog.
This may seem like a strange way to deal with a stress related illness, as owning a dog is a big responsibility. They need a great deal of attention in the form of walking and affection, and also there is the added financial responsibility, but many of the demands a dog makes on your life are the ones that benefit the owner the most.
One of the biggest advantages to our health is dog walking, as it can help to overcome one of the most common causes of anxiety; loneliness. In my experience it is very rare for two dog walkers to pass each other without a short conversation about their pets. There are also dog walking groups, and dog-training classes where everyone has the same thing in common, dog ownership. The physical aspect also means that taking the dog for a walk every day, we get fitter and this leads to a better physic and perception of ourselves, which helps to combat depression. People who do not own a dog are four times more likely to be diagnosed as clinically depressed.
Dog owners are also more likely to have fewer ailments, and are less likely to suffer from high blood pressure and cholesterol problems. The very act of stroking a dog and having the unconditional affection lowers our heart rate, acting as a natural stress relief. Also as dogs have slower heart rates than humans, it means that when we have close contact with a dog it calms us and slows our own heart rate down. This ultimately means there is less chance of a generally healthy dog owner of having heart failure.
Now, I am not advocating that we all rush out and buy a dog! My circumstances enabled me to, and I have to stress that it is very important to look into which breed of dog is right for you… But if you are a ‘dog person’ and would like to benefit from a longer, less stressful life, then the other added bonus is providing a loving home for one of the many abandoned dogs there are currently living in rescues. Another way of combating depression is by getting involved in charity, as giving to others is a great way to boost your own confidence and feeling of well being. By adopting a rescue dog, you can tick both boxes. For those of you that circumstances do not enable you to accommodate a dog full time, there are other options of how you can have regular contact with a canine. This could range from dedicating your time at a local rescue, or devoting an hour a week to walking an elderly neighbour’s dog. Having a dog worked for me – one year on, I am not only a much healthier person but also a much happier one.
For more info on how to volunteer or how to adopt a rescue dog:
Written by Louise Spikings