6 Reasons Why a Dog can Help Cope with Anxiety

One year ago today I found a new sense of hope in coping with anxiety. What is so important about this day, you ask?

One year ago today my sweet pup Theo was born.

Now before you dismiss me as the crazy “dog mom” (although I’m unashamed if you want to give me that title) I am convinced that my pup played a crucial role in my eating disorder recovery and coping with my anxiety disorder.

Just hear me out.

1 in 5 adult Americans struggles with mental health each year. That’s 20% of our entire population. Anxiety and other mental health disorders have this strange way of getting into your head and creating chaos. It’s a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of and is overwhelming. Those of us who struggle are desperate to escape our endless thought processes and this requires finding healthy and effective coping mechanisms. I wish there was an easy fix for mental illnesses, but we simply know that is not possible.

So, people are left to try and find the coping mechanisms that work for them. Some find that keeping a daily journal helps, others go to a therapist, while others are on medications; some are doing all three. There are people who have intense exercise routines, and others who chill out with yoga. There are tons of different ways to cope with anxiety, depression, and other mental health illnesses.

But have you considered getting a dog?

No, dogs aren’t the magic answer either. They don’t come with special powers that always make you happy, nor are they anywhere near an “easy fix.” However, the emotional support that a dog can provide is quite unique. And although some might believe that I just got a dog on a whim, it was a very intentional decision that was really hard for me to make. A year into it I’m convinced it is an intentional decision that people who struggle with mental health should consider.

Here are 6 reasons why getting a dog helps to cope with anxiety:

They force you out of your comfort zone.

If you don’t already have a dog there is a good chance that you have your own routine. You know how to do life and the chances are that you do it the same way pretty much every day. I’m all for routine and structure. I actually thrive on it. However, there was a season where I just let myself sit in that rut. I couldn’t get out of that rut on my own, nor did I really want to.

My anxiety got too overwhelming if I ever ventured outside of my routine, but I was also getting really bored of the “day in, day out” kind of lifestyle. Getting Theo was just the kind of change up that I needed. It was one of the scariest, most overwhelming, most exciting decisions I have made, but it gave me a new sense of life; he gave me something new to get out of bed for.

They are a source of unconditional love.

Now I know that I’m not perfect and I’m sure that I am hard to love sometimes. (And I’m pretty sure you’re not sunshine and rainbows all the time either.) But, I don’t think Theo has ever been mad at me. Unless, of course, his ball ends up under the couch and I am too lazy to get up and get it.

Dogs provide this never-ending source of love no matter what mood you are in. They don’t judge you. Dogs can’t tell anyone your secrets. It doesn’t matter if you have been gone for two hours or two days, they will greet you like they haven’t seen you in ages. No matter what mood you are in, they will look at you with those sweet, big eyes until they see you smile. They just have this inclination of exactly where you are at and give you exactly what you need.

They provide a sense of responsibility.

Taking on the responsibility of any living thing is a big deal. I’m sure it’s a little different than bringing home a human baby. But, for the stage of life I was/am in it has got to be as close as I can get. There is just something about responsibility that gets you moving. Oftentimes when I am struggling to get out of bed and take a shower its because I feel responsible for no one but myself. However, when you take on the responsibility of another little life, even if it is a dog, it’s a new motivating factor.

It is healthy to take on a responsibility that is outside of your own needs when you need to get out of your own head.

They keep you active and outside.

I know when I am overwhelmed with anxiety or depressed it is hard to stay active. It sounds so much easier to just sit on my couch watching Netflix and zone out to avoid the chaos in my mind. Oddly enough, that always just makes things worse or perpetuates the feelings that I am trying to avoid.

Dogs don’t let you sit all the time. They need exercise, and whether you want to admit it or not, you do too. If I want to have a nice night sitting at home with a candlelit, reading a book or watching a movie, I know that I need to let my dog run off his energy. The fresh air and the walk around a block will always do you good. (Having the dog as company just makes it much more enjoyable.)

You’re not alone.

Well… I guess I believe that I am never alone, but a dog helps me not to feel that way. I was having a hard time with all of the inconsistencies of life. I’ve always been the “single” friend living with a perpetual cycle of engaged women. My roommates would change every 6 months, along with my core group of friends.

A dog adds a constant denominator in life. They are there when you wake up and there when you go to sleep. You always have a friend to go home to. When everyone else is on their double dates you know you have a friend to sit on the couch and eat pizza with. (Although I wouldn’t recommend sharing.)

They know when something is “up.”

Dogs have this strange inclination to their owners. It’s kind of like when you look at your best friend and can tell that something is just “off.” Somehow dogs are the same way.

I remember one particularly hard day where I had a panic attack. I was unable to bring my anxious feelings and the physical shaking under control. The harder I fought for logic to break into the never-ending thought processes, the more panicked I became. All I could manage to do was sit on the couch and turn on my TV. Theo, a young pup at the time, caught on to my unusual behavior and climbed up into my lap for me to pet him and calm down.

So there you have it. My long-winded and passionate belief-system that dogs can be an incredible tool to cope for those who struggle with mental illness. It’s a huge commitment and one that should never be taken lightly. There are tools to help you make an educated decision. I’ve provided some informational links below if you’re (wisely) considering one (or three.) 🙂

6 Reasons Why Dogs Help You Cope With Anxiety

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