While I know there are countless ways our fuzzy friends are like superheroes when it comes to managing stress and reducing anxiety; I've included just five of the top ways they do so.
DOGS MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD:
Dogs can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine (those lovely things that help us relax and calm down). Just playing with Leonard by taking him to dog beach, throwing his ball or teaching him tricks helps bring down my anxiety level. Lenny lives in the moment and often anxiety resides in the past or future so staying present to play with a pup is really helpful.
DOGS MAKE GOOD GUARDS:
Dogs are little guards especially at night. When Scott would leave on work trips when we first got married I would dread the nights of sleeping alone. I would set up sleep-overs and buy night lights and deadbolt the door 10x but nothing has helped the way having little Lenny curled up next to me does. If I get nervous and wake from a nightmare in the middle of the night, I just reach over and hold Lenny's paw and immediately feel my nervous system calming down.
DOGS GET YOU OUTSIDE:
We know that the sun offers vitamin D and that vitamin D helps regulate our mood. Leonard needs multiple walks a day, therefore Scott and I get a lot of time in the sun these days. Movement, and vitamin D all are linked to reducing cortisol and anxiety levels. Thanks Lenny!
DOGS ARE GROUNDING:
As I mentioned before dogs help you remain in the present. If someone is experiencing extreme panic, flashbacks or even PTSD just reaching out and petting a puppy can be very grounding. It reminds you of what is going on right now. Trauma informed care includes learning to use our sense (what we see, feel, touch, smell) to help us stay in the moment. Holding a little pup and hearing their heart beat against our own reminds us that we are living in the present, not the past or future.
DOGS MAKE YOU LAUGH:
Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter increases our oxygen (giving us relaxed muscles) and reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone). So it isn't any surprise that watching our pets and dogs' silly antics can really calm us down. Even Leonard does something really "naughty" I sometimes have to suppress my laughter so he knows I'm serious. (like last night when he ate off the stem of pumpkin #yummy?). Sometimes Lenny jumps under the bed with only his tail sticking out. Sometimes he chases his tail. Sometimes he runs at full tilt in a tight circle with his tongue hanging out and his eyes looking wild. Sometimes he growls at Halloween decorations in neighbor's yards. If you don't have a dog, watch this video and it will give you a good laugh.
What about you? How do pets help reduce your stress?