By Dr. Karen Bender
Has the isolation and uncertainty of the past year left you feeling sad, lonely and anxious? If so you are not alone. The circumstance of the past year have been challenging for most of us. We have had to adapt to many changes outside of our control. We are spending more time at home and have tremendous restrictions on the social interactions we can safely have. While from one perspective this describes an unfortunate fate, from another, it offers a unique opportunity.
Get a Dog
Being forced to spend more time at home gives the unique opportunity to provide a loving home for a pet. While this is good from the pet’s perspective, we might actually be the ones who benefit most.
Studies have shown:
- Pet owner are less likely to experience depression than those who do not own pets.
- Petting or playing with a cat or dog can elevate levels of the feel good hormones serotonin and dopamine and the bonding hormone oxytocin.
- People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations indicating having a pet helps with stress management.
Having a pet, especially a dog, helps people get regular exercise, spend more time outside in nature, and live more in the present moment. Think about the last time you saw a dog chasing a stick, there is something about the focus and engagement the dog has that pulls you into the present moment with them. You cannot worry about yesterday or tomorrow when there is an adorable dog staring up at you asking you to throw the stick over and over again.
So I did it. I got a dog. We named her “Happy” because that is what she is by nature. She also has an incredible ability to increase the happiness of others. Not only is she a source of endless laughs in my house, but also a source of joy to people she meets out on walks. It is hard to resist a fuzzy golden retriever puppy after all. Since bringing her home I have shared more socially distanced smiles with strangers than I ever did before. It brings me such pleasure walking away from such interactions knowing that Happy and I helped bring a little more sunshine into the world.
I hope this encourages you to consider getting a pet of your own of maybe just interacting more with the pets of others. For more ideas on natural ways to improve your mental wellbeing click here.