The sun is setting earlier, the days are getting shorter, and more than 10 million Americans are about to undergo another spout of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). With less sunlight, during the late fall and winter months, sufferers of SAD report feelings of fatigue, depression, hopelessness, and withdrawal, often turning to medications along with light and talk therapy to help ease the symptoms. But did you know your dog can help?
From reducing stress, to easing feelings of loneliness and depression, encouraging research shows your four-legged bestie could be the dopamine boost your brain needs during the darkest of days (literally). Read on to understand exactly how your pet can help keep symptoms of SAD at bay.
Dogs Reduce Stress
If simply seeing your dog makes you happy, that can be enough reason for you that they can reduce stress, but there’s actually scientific proof that further backs up the fact. Research shows that simply petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol, while the social interaction between you and your dog increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin (the same hormone that bonds mothers to babies).
So the next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take a break to pet your pup – your hormones will thank you!
Dogs Ease Anxiety
If you’re looking to calm anxiety and lower your blood pressure, keep your pet close by. One research team compared how people responded to a stress test, and, in the presence of their pets, they showed significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure before the test, less reaction during the test, and a faster recovery post stress-test than the non-pet-owning participants.
A pet by your side offers a great source of comfort and motivation, and their presence alone can help you on your journey toward living an anxiety-free mentally healthier life.
Dogs Combat Loneliness
Companionship from a pet can help prevent illness and add years to your life, combatting depression-triggering feelings of isolation and loneliness. Along with reporting fewer negative emotions, such as nervousness or distress, an Australian study called the PAWS trial found that people who got a dog within one month of beginning the study felt less lonely after they got a dog compared to others in the study who did not get a dog. In fact, the feelings of loneliness wearing off happened quite quickly – within three months of getting the dog.
Additionally, pet owners are more likely to meet new people as they’re out exploring new dog parks and walking the neighborhood, which helps with social withdrawal symptoms and overall feelings of loneliness in the colder winter months, when people are more likely to stick indoors. Which leads us to our final point…
Dogs Encourage Exercise and Playfulness
Dogs need exercise, and it’s a pet owner’s responsibility to ensure they get plenty of it. However, the motivation to exercise when symptoms of SAD creep in can be hard to find — unless you have a dog.
Along with indoor playtime, which increases your pets mood and your own dopamine and playfulness, experts recommend at least one 30-minute walk each day for your dog, which is also the exact recommendation by doctors to improve negative moods, ward off depression, and improve self-esteem in humans.
If winter months prove to be far too cold for you (and your dog!) to journey on longer walks, try breaking it up into two or three shorter walks per day, which provides the same mood-boosting benefits for you, and energy-burning benefits for your pup.
The mood-boosting benefits of a four-legged companion can certainly help keep depression, anxiety, and stress at bay, especially in the colder, darker months. From their unconditional love and companionship, to their playful gestures and energetic bouts, dogs can play a powerful role in bringing consistent joy to your day-to-day life and lift your spirits when you need it most.
If you’re ready to bring a new pet into your family, read our 8 tips for adopting a new pet. They could just be the missing puzzle piece you didn’t even know you needed during SAD times.
*If depression and negative thoughts are becoming more of a regularity, it’s advised to seek out the help of a medical professional. If you or someone you know need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.