Feeling Stressed During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Getting a Dog Might Help

Researchers say dogs can provide comfort and stress relief for their owners.
Valentina Barreto/Stocksy
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has increased stress levels for many people.
  • Researchers say that dogs can help reduce their owners’ stress by providing comfort and social support.
  • Experts say dogs can also help lower anxiety for some people.
  • They say you should make sure everyone in your household is on board and you have the time and the financial means to care for a dog before getting one.

Getting a dog could be helpful in dealing with depression and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s according to new research published today in the journal PLOS ONE. 

The study looked at self-reported scores on depression, anxiety, and happiness from 768 dog owners and 767 potential dog owners. 

People who have a bond with at least one dog in their household, the researchers reported, have fared better in some areas than others when it comes to their mental health throughout the pandemic.

Dog owners compared to potential dog owners reported:

  • significantly lower depression score
  • significantly more social support available 
  • closer connection/commitment to pets
  • no significant difference in anxiety score
  • no significant difference in happiness score

Dog ownership may have provided people with a stronger sense of social support, which in turn may have helped buffer some of the negative psychological impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the study authors.

About 70 percent of dog owners and 65 percent of potential dog owners in the study reported benefiting from high social support from family and friends during the pandemic. 

Dogs and mental health 

If you share your life with a dog, you may already be aware how they’ve benefited your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For those potential dog owners or people who are considering getting a dog (especially as a means of boosting mental health), you may be wondering if it’s really a good idea.

Akua K. Boateng, PhD, a licensed psychotherapist in Philadelphia offering individual and couples therapy, explains dogs can help with depression because they decrease a sense of loneliness and isolation, both of which are inherent in depressive symptoms.

Dogs can also encourage physical exercise (taking it outside, going for walks, etc.) and socialization with other dog owners or dog lovers.

Boateng adds that dogs can help with anxiety in the following ways:

  • Dogs can help by calming the nervous system during anxious symptoms. 
  • Dogs are intuitive and can sense shifts in moods, which can provide a sense of being cared for by their owners.   
  • A pet can simply be a distraction to anxious thought loops.
  • Cuddling with the dog can decrease stress in the body.
  • Dogs can help people de-escalate panic attacks.

Is your household ready for a dog?

Getting a dog isn’t a small decision and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“The responsibility of caring for a pet can be a source of stress. If a person feels overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks within their own life, this can exacerbate this,” Boateng told Healthline. 

Ask yourself whether or not you have the time, energy, and finances to care for a dog. Talk with any other members of your household to make sure everyone is on board before moving forward with getting a dog. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that while dogs can be a lot to handle, the added responsibility can also help a person with depression develop a stronger sense of self-worth. 

Boateng cautions that if your dog is in its senior years, the loss of this pet can cause mental health challenges due to the emotional connection and support the animal provides.

She said it’s best to plan ahead and make sure you have proper mental health and social support in place to reduce the impact of losing a pet.

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