Unfortunately, mental health is still a taboo topic. Plenty of people are struggling with mental health issues, but many of them don’t show it and don’t seek help for some problems because they’re not “bad enough.” You may feel ashamed of how you feel sometimes or like you can’t talk to anyone. Even though that isn’t the case, you still have someone to turn to when you feel like you have no one: your dog.
Around 69 million households own at least one dog in the United States alone. These household companions are part of everyday lives and are considered part of the family. Dogs bond closely with humans, so it makes sense that your mental health affects your pet. When you’re happy, your dog senses those feelings, but when you’re stressed, your dog can feel it, too.
Mental health struggles are more common than you might think. Nearly 50% of young adults struggle with mental health issues in the United States. If you have mental health issues, consider addressing them sooner rather than later, so you don’t need to find out how stress affects your dog.
The Ways Mental Health Affects Your Pet
Knowing how mental health affects your pet can help you understand the true effects of your stress. While you may feel linked to your dog in many ways, being linked through stress might be an unexpected one — and it’s a connection you don’t want, as your stress can affect your pup in as many negative ways as you feel.
1. Dogs Sense Your Emotions
Dogs are intelligent creatures. While many people will assert that the breed they own is the smartest, everyone can agree that dogs are smart enough to understand their owner’s feelings, particularly if they’ve been bonded to them for a while.
Because dogs can sense human emotions and respond accordingly, they know when you’re not feeling your best. That might be why your dog stays by your side more often when you don’t feel well. Your emotions directly affect how your dog treats you.
2. They May Miss Out
While you might miss out on quite a few life events or fun times due to your mental health, your dog also misses out on enrichment for their life, too. Walks are important for every dog, but younger dogs and active breeds might need more frequent or longer walks than their less active counterparts. When you feel stressed or depressed, getting out of bed to go for a walk might be the last thing on your mind — but for many dogs, their walks might be the biggest form of enrichment they get during their day.
3. Your Stress Becomes Your Dog’s Stress
Dogs can feel your stress. Your mental health affects your pet more drastically than you might know. Lina Roth, a professor at Linkoping University, measured dogs’ cortisol levels with their stressed owners. Since cortisol can be measured through testing hair, Roth and her colleagues used it to figure out that dogs match their owners’ stress levels due to being so connected with them.
If you spend years of your life with your dog, you’re bound to be attached. Losing a pet can take a toll on your mental health, so it makes sense that your dog would feel strongly about seeing you in pain as well. When you decide not to prioritize yourself, it can hurt your pup, too.
How to Lower Your (And Your Dog’s) Stress Levels
Stress isn’t great. It can shorten your lifespan and open you up to several physical health problems, not to mention worsen any mental health issues you might have. Knowing how mental health affects your dog leads to prioritizing both your health and theirs. After all, you want to spend as much quality time with your dog as possible, and the best way to do that is to be fully present and enjoy every moment with them.
1. Get Professional Help
Sometimes, your coping strategies for stress might not work as well as you’d like. If you feel yourself starting to suffer under the crushing weight of stress, seek out professional health. A therapist can work wonders when you’re not sure of what to do next.
You shouldn’t be afraid to talk about your mental health with other people. Men are less likely to seek help for their mental health issues than women are, but regardless of your gender, you should know to reach out when you feel like you’re sinking. A therapist can give you effective coping strategies that will help you navigate life and all your stressors.
2. Go for Walks
Take your dog for a walk, even if you don’t feel like going for one. If you’ve grown bored with the usual paths, try taking your pup somewhere new. Being in the forest can help support your immune system, among the other stress-relieving benefits of being out in nature. Just make sure to stay safe, whether you adhere to an old trail or make one for yourself.
If going for a walk seems too mundane for you, you can bring your pup to the local dog park. Dog parks aren’t for every pup, especially if they get anxious easily or are reactive, but if your dog is well-behaved and can get along well with others, it might be worth a visit. Just remember that you don’t have much control over your dog in an unleashed dog park, so you must have trust in the other owners.
3. Spend Time Cuddling
For people who are less active or can’t get out of the house for several reasons, cuddling with your pets can do just as good a job. Simply petting your pup can help lower your stress levels, which will help how stress affects your dog in turn. Let your dog in your bed or on the couch with you and spend time snuggling together. You’ll feel better instantly after spending time with your beloved pet, and they may just feel better, too.
Know How Stress Affects Your Dog
Dogs aren’t immune to stress. Because your dog has bonded with you so closely, they should be able to sense when you’re not feeling your best. However, mental health affects your pet, too — and they can take on some of your stress rather than feeling their own. Knowing how stress affects your dog can help you know when to take a step back and start making a difference in your mental health. Your mind will thank you — and so will your dog.