Some of the most common symptoms of depression are loneliness, sadness, feeling worthless and unloved, and feeling as if you have no purpose in life. What if I told you there is someone who could help with all these symptoms? Well, there is, and he or she is as close as your local animal shelter or pet shop.
Any kind of pet is beneficial, but dogs are particularly loyal and affectionate. They depend on us, which gives us a sense of purpose because we feel needed. And how can you feel worthless when you are loved and showered with affection?
Dogs, especially certain breeds, like close physical contact with their “people mommy” (or “daddy”). With such a close buddy, those feelings of loneliness are greatly reduced, or sometimes disappear entirely.
Petting a dog is not only soothing to the dog, but it is also very calming for us. It has been found that petting a dog lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels in humans. In a feature article on WebMD, Jeanie Lerche Davis writes that playing with a pet may elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, lower cholesterol levels, and increase immune function.
“Therapy dogs” are used in many health care facilities. The dogs visit the facilities, giving patients a chance to hold, play, and cuddle with them. The visits from the therapy dogs lift the spirits of the patients, and in many cases, also reduce the patients’ levels of pain.
Feelings of sadness decrease significantly in those who own a dog. I can speak to this from personal experience. When my father died last year, his little black dachshund came to live with me. (Dad called her P.J., short for Precious Jackson. I call her Peej, short for P.J.) Peej and I went through several months of intense grieving, and during that time, holding her gave me a great deal of comfort and peace.
Gradually, Peej’s cute, sweet little personality began to re-emerge, and the more she returned to herself, the more I returned to myself. I can’t see her sitting up, doing “high jumps,” stomping her hands at me, or “putting it in reverse,” without laughing! I open the front door so she can see out, and I laugh as she barks and growls at people walking down the street. (She thinks she’s bad!)
Words cannot express the love, comfort, peace and joy that little Peej has brought into my life. In losing my Dad, I was given a precious blessing in the form of a little brunette with a very long back and super-short legs, who has been instrumental in decreasing my depression.
If you are suffering from depression, and adopting a pet is possible, I urge you to give it a try. Granted, it is an important responsibility, but that’s part of the beauty of it. You get love, affection, companionship and joy, as well as a sense of worth and purpose, all wrapped up in one sweet little furry package. What more could you ask for?
Davis, Jeanie Lerche. 5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health. WebMD, 2004.