What Do Our Pets Have To Do With Anxiety and Depression?

By: Annette Arceneaux

On a nightly walk with a client’s dog, the manager of Happy Dog Baltimore, Arielle Boyer, held back her tears brought on from her struggle with depression. Instead of suffering, she took a bold and proactive approach by telling Mama, a four year old mix, her troubles. Boyer says she received the support she needed to get through the moment.

 Arielle & Daphne

Arielle & Daphne

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that half of all people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Depression first ailed Boyer when she was 16 years old and she recalls anxiety as a part of her life from an early age. Boyer, 25, has found a way to cope. She says that living and working with animals has been the top reason for the decrease in her depression and anxiety.

“Animals are like a little extra push. It’s like taking care of something else that gets you out of bed in the morning, because depression doesn’t let you do that,” Boyer said. “But when you’re doing it for somebody else, then I am good to go.” 

A case study published in The Frontiers in Psychology, reported a significant increase in the human and animal brain chemicals responsible for happiness, like dopamine, within five to 25 minutes of petting a companion animal.

Courtney Hart, a licensed clinical social worker, first saw the effects of human-animal interaction firsthand.

“When I worked at a psych hospital, they used to have dogs come in and see the patients,” Hart said. “When the dogs were there, everyone seemed calmer. We saw kids who didn’t show a lot of empathy, just loving the dogs and caring for them so much.”

The report from The Frontiers in Psychology showed the psychological effects on human-animal interactions, especially in terms of anxiety and depression. Research showed that human-animal interaction reduces depression, promotes a positive mood, reduces fear and anxiety and promotes calmness because of a release of oxytocin, the hormone produced when sharing a hug.

Hart recently adopted a labrador-poodle mix for her practice, Healing Hart Wellness in Havre De Grace, Maryland, that incorporates counseling, yoga and mindfulness for children and young adults.

 

 Courtney Hart's dog, Frank. 

Courtney Hart's dog, Frank. 

Hart’s labradoodle, Franklin, or Frank for short, is currently training to become an animal assisted therapy dog for people with depression, anxiety. Hart says the emotional connection with dogs can help with depression and anxiety. Helping the assisted therapy dogs learn skills can help the people learn coping skills too.

A National Center for Health Research case study in 2002, reported that, when stressed, people with animals had a lower resting heart rate, which decreases stress, than those who did not have animals.

“Animals are tuned to unconditional love and you don’t often get that with people,” the Happy Dog Baltimore employee said. “Having that in an animal is better for healing because they’re going to love you no matter what.”

What did you find interesting about this post? Have your pets helped you through tough times? We would love to hear from you! 

       SOURCES:

  1. HEALING HART WELLNESS - https://www.healinghartwellness.com/abouttherapy/
  2. JOURNAL ARTICLE FROM THE FRONTIERS OF PSYCHOLOGY https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/
  3. ANXIETY & DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA- https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  4. NATIONAL CENTER FOR HEALTH RESEARCH - http://www.center4research.org/benefits-pets-human-health/