Dogs are some of the best companions for many reasons but their ability to create mindfulness and improve mental health may be at the top of the list. These built-in best friends carry the ability to teach all of us a little more about how to enjoy the small moments of life and take a deep breath. Mindfulness and connectedness to the present is a common practice used in mental health to promote healthy habits against depression and anxiety and other mental health disorders. There is evidence to show that your pet can assist in this practice. Adream Beetz, a professor and psychologist at IU International of Applied Sciences, shares, “Interacting with an animal, enjoying each other’s company, can be an exercise of mindfulness.” Research suggests that cuddling with your furry friend releases oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone” stimulates joy and well-being that can counteract the harmful hormones of stress and anxiety in an individual. Studies show that a human’s heart beats slower when they are petting a dog than when they are talking with their friends. A large aspect of mindfulness is bringing the body to a place where it is aware and content to be present in the moment. Dogs have a unique ability to teach us to slow down and observe the small joys in the moment.
Hoy-Gerlach conducted a study through the College of Health and Human Services where a group of participants were paired with a shelter animal and were observed for 12 months. Each individual underwent a psychological exam, as well as had their oxytocin and cortisol (stress hormone) measured throughout the study. At the end of the 12 months, they found that the individuals had experienced a significant decrease in depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Hoy-Gerlach states, “The biomarker findings, along with the standardized stress, anxiety and loneliness surveys and qualitative interviews, suggests insights into how emotional support animals may help reduce symptoms and loneliness associated with chronic mental illness.” Although much of this research is still in the beginning stages, there is no doubt that animals do provide emotional support and care that can greatly impact lives.
Hoy-Gerlach later stated that many of their clients would share that leaving their pet behind was the reason they decided against ending their life. This shows a deeper impact that animals can have on an individual and why emotional support animals can be crucial to the well-being of the people around us.
Check out local human societies to begin your journey to mindfulness:
The Greater Birmingham Humane Society
Alabama Adoption Society
Check your local PetSmart