2020 has been a chaotic a year for millions around the world. And if you’re dealing with depression, know that you’re not alone.
To give you perspective, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), in 2015, around 16.1 million adults aged 18 years or older in the U.S. experienced at least one major depressive episode, which represents 6.7 percent of all American adults. In 2020, with the global pandemic gripping the world, COVID-19 has likely tripled depression rate, study finds.
There are different types of depressive disorders, and all sorts of treatment options. In this blog post, I would simply like to share my personal experience with depression, and share how my dogs played a major role in pulling me through. If you are struggling with depression, and have the good fortune to have a dog (or other beloved pet), I pray this article will offer hope for better days.
How I Overcame Depression, with the Help of My Dogs
Dogs are good for our health! Each time I hug my dogs I feel more hopeful, happier, and healthier!
During the Covid19 lockdowns, I found myself struggling with a familiar dark blue feeling, one that I experienced many years ago. Thankfully, that experience gave me the tools to navigate this difficult season we’re all in, and come out stronger and more grateful than ever before. This is my story . . .
I’ll never forget coming home after an appendectomy, having some complications, and spiraling into depression due to the slow healing and ongoing pain. I was scared and had no idea what was happening to me at first. All I know is that I felt trapped in a very dark place and longed to be free.
One of the greatest healing gifts is the loving presence of those who provide our care. I’m incredibly grateful for my family who lovingly cared for me after the surgery. That said, it wasn’t always possible for someone to sit with me during those long dark months. This is where my dogs (aka personal emotional support therapists) came in.
My husband would choose one of my dogs each day, and carry him or her to my room to lay with me in bed. They were always so excited to see me and would nudge me as if to say, “Let’s play, let’s cuddle, what’s the plan for the day?!” While I didn’t share their enthusiasm, due to the emotional and physical pain, their cheery attitude gave me hope! My dogs were very smart too, they always figured out how I was feeling and would eventually settle down and adapt to my mood. Most days, they just lay their head on my chest and rested with me. Thanks to my dogs, I’m certain that I healed quicker, and was spared a prolonged season of depression.
I think when I was at my worst, one of my little doggies, a precious Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, sat with me 10-12 hours a day and only left me to go out to potty. I’m pretty sure she acted as my guardian angel, chasing away the darkness, depression, and feelings of hopelessness. This is why owners and their dogs who participate in pet therapy and visit hospitals and nursing homes are so important. They act like sunshine for those in need, offering a warm loving presence, unconditional love, and all the other emotional and physical benefits mentioned above.
My personal experience feeling uplifted by my dogs while recovering from my surgery led me to do a little research into how dogs can help those suffering from depression and anxiety.
A Pet is like a Medication
Powerful physiological effects take place in our bodies while we interact with our dogs, which can make us feel more hopeful, happier, and healthier. Some doctors are even prescribing dogs to help people deal with depression and anxiety. The best part is, a pet is a medication without side effects, although I must warn you, they’re slightly addictive 🙂
“A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits. I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”Dr. Edward Creagan Oncologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
What’s actually going on behind the scenes when we interact with our dogs?
Interestingly, the human-canine bond seems linked to a “feel good” hormone called oxytocin, also called the “bonding hormone,” “love hormone,” “happy hormone,” and “cuddle chemical.” It’s released in both humans and dogs when they interact, while playing, snuggling, walking together, or simply gazing in each other’s eyes. It also supports cooperation, social bonding, and feelings of wellness, happiness, calm, affection, and trust.
Even 15 to 30 minutes a day with a dog reduces stress and anxiety. Cortisol levels ( a hormone associated with stress) are lowered, and serotonin ( a chemical associated with well-being) is increased. Less stress can translate into a stronger immune system, fewer days off work due to illness, and quicker recover from surgery. Reducing stress can also improve our relationships, and enhance the quality of our lives in so many other ways! For example, adults who own dogs average 1,700 more steps per day than non-dog owners. I can testify to that . . .
Some days, my dogs are the only reason I get out and walk. This was especially true while I was recovering from my surgery and trying to find relief from depression. Even a short walk down my driveway would lift my spirit. And it’s still true today while dealing with the lockdown blues. Walking with my dogs has been extremely helpful on warding off feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.
I’ve even taken up dancing with my dogs at home during the Covid19 lockdowns to ward off the blues. Here’s my latest video:
I’ve heard it said that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” After experiencing how my dogs helped me recover from surgery, overcome depression, and endure feelings of isolation associated with the Covid19 lockdowns, I’d like to say;
A dog a day keeps the blues away!
I hope my story has offered some hope and encouragement during this difficult season we are all in. If you’re struggling with you’re emotions, let me encourage you to talk with a trusted loved one and reach out to a medical professional. And if you’re blessed to have a dog or other beloved pet, spend time interacting with them (i.e. snuggling, playing fetch, walking, teaching them a new trick). Stay connected, positive, and hopeful. Live each day with a grateful heart! And always remember that God loves you and is with you.
A Prayer if you are suffering from depression:
Dear God, thank you that I am not alone in my suffering. You are with me, you see my pain, and you care. Please offer relief. Shed your light into my darkness and help me to heal. Thank you for all those you have provided to care for me—my family and friends, and health care professionals. A special thanks for my dogs— my healing angels, constant companions, and faithful friends! Thank you for channeling your comfort and care through them, and helping me to heal. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I trust that you will be with me tomorrow, to help me get through the day, moment by moment. Thank you that I am never alone! Amen.
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you not forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” —Deuteronomy 31:8
Check out my latest book, Pawz & Pray: Finding Joy in the Journey with God, Family, and Furry Friends!
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About the Book
Pawz & Pray: Finding Joy in the Journey with God, Family, and Furry Friends! 130 Uplifting Stories and Devotions for Dog Lovers!
Unleash a richer, simpler, more meaningful life!
Pawz & Pray is a collection of heartwarming stories, scriptures, and prayers, inviting you to draw close to God and discover the secrets to a truly meaningful life. If you’d like to extract more joy out of life, and happen to have a sweet spot for dogs, this book is for you! [Learn more about the book]
Life is sweeter when we take time to Pawz & Pray.
— Leila Grandemange, author or Pawz & Pray
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