Man’s Best Medicine

When it comes to mental health, the term “man’s best friend” may as well be “man’s best medicine.”

That’s right.  Your four-pawed friend may be the catalyst for increasing those serotonin levels and bringing back those happy feelings.  While medications are an option and a necessity in certain instances, it has been proven that animals can additionally provide mental and emotional support for those struggling with mental illness. 

We trust our canines to guide the blind, rescue us from fires, and sniff out the most dangerous of substances, so trusting them with our hearts and minds is easy in comparison.  Plus, they are so fluffy and cuddly; how could you resist? 

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 My friend Leo, resting while on a hike.

 Here are some facts about how they can help:

Helpguide says that, “dogs in particular can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise, and even improve cardiovascular health.”  Even playing with or petting a dog/cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax us.”  The effects that result from cuddling with a fluffy pup are undeniable and life-changing. 

Six advantages the emotional and mental health guide give are:

*Increased exercise

*Providing companionship

*Helping you meet new people

*Reducing anxiety

*Adding structure and routine to your day

*Providing sensory stress relief

It may be hard to believe that an animal could bring all these positive changes.  But, as someone who also didn’t believe, I can tell you they are very real. 

I adopted my first dog in 2014 with little expectation.  At the time, I was going through my own struggles with anxiety, and while faith and counseling were essential to my journey, I now believe my Golden Retriever was too. 

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My pup Brody. 

Dogs live with such inhibition, positivity, resilience, and love, that it’s is impossible not to learn from them.  With my pup, I found myself meeting people I would have never talked to if it weren’t for my him greeting everyone with a smile and wagging tail.  I began to exercise more often by taking him for walks, and would even explore new places with him by my side.  If I ever felt anxiety rearing its ugly head, cuddling up to my dog and stroking his fur was just the cure. 

My dog and I have also grown so close, that he can even tell when I am feeling down.  It is proven that, “dogs and humans have similar social systems”, and have “learned to decode human nonverbal language”, so when you are down in the dumps, they are sure to find out just by your body language. 

Even if you are not struggling with mental health issues, a lot can be learned from the canine lifestyle.  Dogs are resilient, and continue to love humans no matter their past.  They forgive and love unconditionally.  They trust and they live in the moment, without worry about the future or the past.  If that is not a great example for all of us, I don’t know what is.

Ultimately, I understand that owning a dog is a major commitment and not always possible. If you are unable to have a pet of your own, volunteering at an animal shelter or even pet sitting for family/friends can be fulfilling.  It might only take a nice walk in nature with a dog to cheer up.  

So, let me know.  Do you think dogs can be “man’s best medicine” as well as our best friends?  Comment below positive experiences with your four-pawed friends.  I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading,

-Allison

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