Psychologist reveals how dogs can help us overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder
As the darker and colder weather nears, the NHS reports around 2 million people in the UK are expected to be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder - however, our dogs could be the key to getting through the darker months according to new insight.
Following a survey from Canine Cottages which revealed that 81% of dog owners had reported that their pooch helps relieve their stress anxiety, Dr. Becky Spelman, psychologist and founder of the Private Therapy Clinic, reveals the psychology behind dogs helping us overcome difficult situations in life...
- Dogs teach us ‘how to love and to feel loved’.
When we think of dogs, we often think of the title ‘man’s best friend’ – so just like our human friends, there is little surprise that four-fifths (81%) of dog owners said their pooch had helped them cope with difficult situations.
Dr. Becky Spelman comments that through ‘unconditional love and companionship, dogs can alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness which are symptoms commonly associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) Their presence promotes a sense of purpose and responsibility which provides a distraction from negative thoughts and instead increases feelings of happiness. Dogs teach us how to love and to feel loved and ultimately, their trust in us encourages us to be reliable and trustworthy human beings.’
- Dogs can help ‘lower cortisol’ and therefore lower stress levels.
Research has shown that simply petting a dog can lower cortisol³, a hormone in the human body that is released due to stress. It is unsurprising then that 81% of dog owners had reported that their stress and anxiety had improved since becoming a dog owner.
On dogs’ ability to calm us and better our mood, Dr. Becky Spelman comments, ‘Evidence suggests that the presence of a dog can lower our stress levels, inducing a better state of calmness and ultimately, it has the benefit of reducing the likelihood of heart-related illnesses.’
- Dogs encourage ‘physical activity and outdoor engagement’, 88% of Brits agree.
In the colder months, it can be harder to motivate ourselves to pick up our trainers and get moving. But, with 88% of Brits surveyed saying their dog improved their physical health, dogs can be our biggest motivators for being more active.
Dr. Becky Spelman adds that a dog’s presence ‘encourages physical activity and outdoor engagement, increasing exposure to natural light and promoting the production of mood-enhancing hormones like serotonin.’
‘Regular outdoor walks with a dog can provide exposure to natural light and encourage physical exercise, both of which have mood-lifting effects’. Additionally, ‘engaging in interactive play sessions with a dog can promote laughter and release endorphins.’
- Dogs can ‘boost confidence’ and ‘provide a sense of accomplishment’.
The responsibility of taking care of a dog during the winter months can have a positive effect on a person's daily life and routine by giving them a feeling of purpose, structure and routine, says Becky.
Establishing a consistent daily routine for feeding, grooming and spending quality time with a dog can provide a sense of structure and purpose. Dr. Becky adds that participating in dog training classes or engaging in activities like agility or obedience training can boost confidence, improve social interactions and provide a sense of accomplishment.
Commenting, Digital PR Manager at Canine Cottages, Sarah Pring, says, ‘Moving into the colder months, it can become part of our routine to cosy up at home rather than getting outside. However, sadly, people across the UK experience extreme loneliness and low mood during these months, especially those who live alone. Therefore, we wanted, through our research, to showcase just how important dogs are for aiding both our mental and physical health.’
‘It’s important to put that little bit extra into self-care during the winter months – and that can be as simple as exploring the beautiful landscapes and culture the UK has to offer with your pooch.’