In an effortless manner, our pets seem to bring all the best emotions and feelings into our lives, even in the most trying of times.
Whether it’s boosting our mood with their affectionate behaviour, providing us with the motivation to get outdoors and exercise or inspiring social behaviours with others.
During unprecedented times like these, mental health is at an all-time low and with another national lockdown in place, it’s likely that many of us will experience ups and downs in our mental health with increased levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness.
With this in mind, the team at Waggel, a pet insurance provider, share their insights into how your dog can lend a hand, or a paw, in supporting your mental health.
Dogs socialise their owners too!
Dogs can be a brilliant icebreaker for people who are feeling isolated, lacking in confidence, or struggling to socialise with others.
Walking your dog in your neighbourhood is an excellent way to meet new people and socialise through have light-hearted conversations with other dog owners, all whilst adhering to the social distancing of course.
In fact, Waggel’s very own pet insurance co-founder, Ross Fretten, has opened up about his mental health journey and how his dog, Sailor (who was the driving force behind starting Waggel), has allowed him to overcome his social anxiety, show vulnerability and form new friendships;
“For the first time, interacting with people wasn’t so emotionally draining. Over time, this felt more natural to me as my social barriers came down. In this way, Sailor socialised me”.
Many other dog owners battling mental health issues like depression and anxiety will relate to Ross’s experience and often have wonderful anecdotes of the conversations and friendships that they have developed as a result of having their trusted pet by their side.
Dogs are intuitive and provide comfort during pain and sorrow
Dogs are very quick to pick up on any indications of sadness or nervous tension as they can be very intuitive of the changes to your mood, sometimes even before you’re aware of it yourself.
It is remarkable that when you are at your lowest, dogs are able to find small ways to comfort you through tough times and periods of depression – whether that be by lying on you as a sign of support or asking you to play with them.
Ross Fretten says; “It’s quite extraordinary how aware he is (Sailor) and, in these tense and upsetting moments, he’s quite forceful with his affection – insisting on resting his head firmly on my shoulder”.
He adds; “I saw Sailor was becoming more in tune with my emotions. Even before I’d fully manifested my anger or distress, he would position himself next to me with his paw on my knee or place his head on my neck. He read changes in my disposition before I even had time to register the feelings.”
At the end of a long or tiresome day, dogs can provide moments of happiness and laughter. They’re able to support us with their unconditional love and ground us when times are difficult, especially in lockdown when it is easy to get overwhelmed about what is going on around us.
Dogs provide responsibility and purpose
For those struggling with depression, it can be difficult to find the motivation to get up in the morning, stay productive and even leave the house.
However, your pet can be a powerful motivator in maintaining a healthy routine and offering meaning to your life during these low moments.
For many, including James Middleton, having a dog has helped him through his own mental health struggles by creating a sense of purpose.
During an interview for Waggel’s Zine mental health issue, James said; “The responsibility gave me purpose, which created a structure in my life”.
With a dog, comes dependency so whilst you may you feel down, you are forced to get up and look after your pet even when you feel unable to look after yourself.
A dog constantly reminds its owner of how much it needs them and provides them with a purpose to get up in the morning.
In uncertain times like these, the structure is very important, particularly for those who struggle with anxiety, as it allows for a sense of stability and control.
They get you outdoors
During the winter period, many people experience a low mood due to the darker days and colder weather and are therefore lacking in motivation to go outdoors.
Daily exercise is so important for mental wellbeing - as dogs require daily walks, they’re great for getting you outdoors when you don’t feel up to it!
Although taking your dog for a walk in the cold may not seem desirable, Waggel shares how keeping active with your pet will not only improve your physical health but also your mental health – particularly for those who are stressed.
If you are battling anxiety and depression, going for a walk can be hugely beneficial as it helps clear the mind and allows you to be more present.
Many dog walkers will come back feeling much more positive and upbeat than when they set off – a brisk walk with your pet will release endorphins that help reduce emotional stress and stimulate feelings of content, resulting in an uplifting mood.
Getting outdoors when you are feeling low and unmotivated can also provide you with a sense of pride and accomplishment!