The Effects of Dog Ownership on Anxiety

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Overview of Anxiety and Its Effects

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who unfortunately have to deal with anxiety on a daily basis, you know how it works, how it makes you feel, and everything that’s associated with it. But those that have never had to deal with anxiety may not be as educated on the matter.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting more than 40 million people ages 18 or older. Although anxiety is highly treatable, only about 37 percent of people with anxiety ever seek treatment.

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety and fear over everyday events and activities. Everyone has surely encountered the feeling of anxiety in one way or another during their lives, whether it’s been while trying to meet a strict deadline at work or while trying to study last minute for an important exam in school, but a person who has an anxiety disorder experiences anxiety that is much more excessive than these mild cases. Rather than experiencing anxiety for a short period of time, they deal with it on just about a daily basis. It is even common for someone diagnosed with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression, and vice versa.

Individuals with anxiety have a difficult time controlling their anxiety and the way they feel. They begin to worry about everything, even when there is no real reason to worry. This becomes more and more difficult to control the longer one goes without seeking treatment, and any attempts to control it only makes the problem worse. This is why if you feel like you have anxiety, it’s recommended to seek medical treatment.

Anxiety is capable of producing both physical and emotional symptoms, such as restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, chronic fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and worsening of fear over an extended period of time. Anxiety disorders can be caused by a number of contributing factors, such as trauma, stress buildup, drug or alcohol withdrawal, or a family history of mental health issues.

Dog Breeds that Best Help Anxiety

You’ve probably encountered someone in your life that has what’s called an emotional support dog or a service dog. Believe it or not, these dogs are helpful in more ways than one, but some are used specifically to help control their owners’ anxiety. These dogs can be trained to perform specific tasks depending on an individual’s needs. A few of the tasks these special dogs fulfil are detecting signs of an anxiety attack before it actually happens, grabbing medication or water during an anxiety attack, bringing someone to help the person having an anxiety attack, preventing strangers from approaching their handler, calming a person down through distraction by licking their face during an anxiety attack, retrieving a phone during an anxiety attack, and reminding a person to take their medication.

There are a couple of dogs that are well known to help soothe anxiety in humans, but before we delve into the breeds, it’s worth mentioning some of the traits these dogs have which make them such great dogs for this reason. Dogs known to assist in soothing anxiety are typically very friendly and outgoing, calm, affectionate, confident, loving and loyal. A few dog breeds who share these traits and are good breeds in helping soothe anxiety are Standard Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Great Danes, Greyhounds, German Shepherds, Huskies, Border Collies, Pugs, Pomeranians, and Corgis.

There are both small dogs and big dogs that are capable of helping humans with anxiety. The size and breed of the dog you choose depend on your preferences. Larger dogs are better for petting and cuddling with, as well as providing you with a feeling of security, but they also are more difficult to take care of and maintain as opposed to smaller dogs. Smaller dogs cost less to maintain and are easier to take on flights, to the store, etc. So each size dog has its benefits that you would have to take into consideration.

How Owning a Dog Helps with Anxiety

If you’ve never had pets, especially dogs, it’s probably difficult for you to understand just how positively they impact our lives on a daily basis. Simply being around dogs provides plenty of benefits, including many of the following:

  • Exercise. Having a dog is a great way to encourage those with anxiety to exercise. Physical activity can improve symptoms of anxiety and other mental health conditions. It is also vital for physical health.
  • Time spent outdoors. Having to walk a dog means having to spend time outdoors, which can sometimes be difficult for people who experience anxiety or depression. Spending time outdoors can boost an individual’s mental health and increase their vitamin D intake, which can drastically improve a person’s mood.
  • Company. Dogs provide unconditional love, affection, and friendship. Having a dog can reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation. Stress relief. Spending time with dogs can reduce stress and anxiety, as well as boost happiness tremendously.

Interacting with dogs helps with reducing depression and improving a person’s mood, encourages more positive interactions with other people, lowers cortisol levels, which are the body’s primary stress hormone, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, as well as results in a lower report of fear and anxiety in people with anxiety disorders. Petting or playing with a dog also releases serotonin and oxytocin, which are important chemical and neurotransmitters in the human body that help regulate mood and social behavior, among other functions. The saying “dogs are a man’s best friend” definitely has some legitimacy behind it.

Learn More About How Dogs Are Helpful

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