Have you ever seen a child take comfort in their “stuffy” (a favored stuffed animal that brings untold ease, calm and joy)?
Certainly we all need and look for reassurance and comfort. But what is it to take comfort, to be comforted? Comfort affords us the vital sense of being secure and at ease, filled with well-being, contentment, relief and reassurance. These are essential to our flourishing as human beings.
For those of us with chronic pain the loss of all such ideas is often a traumatic consequence of being at the will of the terrific force that rules our lives, constant pain.
We seek answers as to how to “manage” this state of being but there are frequently no easy answers and as the condition becomes more enduring, as the chronic nature of the condition settles in, there become fewer and fewer answers available to us.
But there is one resource that is known to help in all kinds of situation’s…
Man’s Best Friend.
Becoming a dog owner may be the very thing to reintroduce ourselves to the idea of comfort and contentment not to mention security and my goodness, the illusive sense of well-being. Even Harvard Medical School agrees that dog ownership has much to offer. They’ve put out a publication on the health benefits of owning a dog. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also offers good information not only on the health benefits of dog ownership but also on how to pick a breed and other such helpful tips.
Dogs are great for us for many reasons including…
Just having “someone’ about to engage with, wrestle about and play, cuddle, hang out with and Heaven knows-make us laugh, with their cute and funny ways, is of so much value. A study by the United States Department of Health revealed that owning a pet offers us any number of benefits, the sense of belonging, of increased self-esteem, less fear in respect to social rejection, etc. that come from having “significant social support.”
Building and Maintaining Social Relationships
By taking your dog for a walk you get to know your neighbors and the other dog owners in your community better. If you take your dog to the park or dog park this too allows you the opportunity to meet and get to know people. Dogs are great at “breaking the ice” between total strangers with their cute antics and silly ways. They often will take a shining to someone you would not even have noticed, and for better or worse you find yourself engaged in conversation thanks to Scruffy.
Positive Mental Health
Dog owners are less likely to be depressed than non-dog owners. All that playing and cuddling releases Oxytocin, our body’s natural feel-good hormone and the walks we take with them also release this in addition to the feel good qualities of the Vitamin D we are acquiring by being out in the sunlight. Dogs help to keep us on a regular schedule, the routines of their meals and activities help keep us on a routine and that is all good for our mental well-being.
Because dogs need regular exercise you will find yourself having to get up and move. Exercise we know is key and when you are in pain, movement is often the last thing you want to do, no matter how “good” it may be for you. Your dog however will get you up and out and who knows…you may feel better after a little fresh air and a walk around the block.
Dog ownership has been shown to lower both our blood pressure and our heart rate. There is evidence that having a dog for a pet helps to reduce stress and also promotes relaxation. This on top of the good effects we experience from the exercise we’re getting as a dog owner.
For some people living with chronic pain dogs may also prove to be helpful in very pragmatic ways and, depending on your condition, it may be worthwhile to look into the benefits of owning a Service Dog or an Emotional Support dog. Service dogs can offer all kinds of amazing help. A PBS documentary on them, Through a Dog’s Eyes, really helps you to see all of the remarkable things dogs can help us do and be as well as being a wonderful testimony to the people who train them.
However, dog ownership may not be right for everyone.
There are the very real concerns that limited or unstable mobility present and not every chronic pain condition can accommodate for the very real day-to-day responsibilities of owning a dog. There are also financial considerations, dogs are estimated to cost about $500 a year and emergencies can occur which can greatly increase these costs. That being said….
The easiest way to improve your mood – and your life – is to take time each day to focus on the simple things that bring you joy. And Fido would be the first to agree.