Community//

A Dog Really Can Be Your Best Friend When You Feel Loneliness

How a dog can help improve your mental and physical health & Wellbeing.

Alison Stockton VBH 7.3.19

HAVING A DOG is one of the most special bonds you can have and can help you with loneliness anxiety and depression,… 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a mum to 2 amazing humans as well as my fur baby…. but this boys love (the fur ball in the pic) is complete, unconditional, never ending and literally life saving….

The stories of my own journey are here I hope to inspire you and encourage you to know that we are all human, we all have ups and downs and sometimes it’s nothing more difficult each day to even get up out of bed, no matter how professional we are, we are humans and we need to feel our worth each and every day. 

My stories are real life and by no way a pity party so no sorry is required ……

Depression, anxiety and mental health as well as Loneliness is real and something that we are GLOBALLY becoming more open about discussing to enable us to help and support others. 

Building awareness around #mentalhealth, however, is a work in progress, many of us are still fearful of judgement, criticism, or being told “theres nothing wrong with you, just get on with it” Irts all in your head…well actually yes it really is in your head!

There are many parts to this personal journey of mine that I am still not yet ready to fully share, because, well I still have my boys to protect from knowing EVERYTHING and allow myself space to be real with what has been my jjourney called LIFE.

So, anyway, I was trying my best to get on with it, life that is, a life with depression and anxiety, I was trying for several years, but the disconnect was real and I didn’t have any professional help and tried to hide it a lot of the time, I didn’t know how to get help, I didn’t want medication either.

It was time for things to change.

I have had 4 Labrador’s in my life and have loved every one of them with a special bond, but this one is super special not just to me but all of the family!

If your not a doggy person then you totally won’t get it and that’s cool too, but if you are then you’ll get this 100%…👇🏼

In 2014 My husband and I moved countries, It was a hard decision to make, not only were my children going to live with their father, I had to find a family to adopt our beloved Labrador, the reason being we were moving to a desert where dogs are not allowed to run freely, swim in the sea or navigate a forest. I knew my dog, our dog, would be miserable if confined without being able to run free too often, so we found the most loving family for him and said our goodbyes, I am forever grateful to them for loving him as we did, and still do.

This is written far easier than it was in physical reality. We all felt deep sadness and loss. We were able to visit him whenever we returned, but my eldest son didn’t like to go, he was still hurting and sad and mad at me and the loss of his friend.

I would wake up in tears at 2 am and the next day send a message to ask if the new family would allow me to ship him (the dog), understandably, he was now a part of their family and of course, my request was rightfully denied. So I was without my children and without my furry friend. Thankfully We had many friends where we had moved to and lots of activities, as well as work to occupy my mind and help me to not think of the sadness of not having the children with me daily. My greatest hope was that the children would be with me every 6-8 weeks, my dog, however, couldn’t come to visit!

When the children would leave after the holidays, my heart was heavy and the pain of sadness, loss, depression and anxiety would return…..

I’d been a single mum for a few years before I met my husband.

When I separated with the childrens father I would feel the loneliness and heartache even on the weekends they were not with me, it was sometimes very overwhelming because the separation was terribly acrimonious.

When the children were not with me, the lows I would feel could be so overpowering that some weekends, I would take sleeping pills to sleep through as much of the days of the weekend I could if I had no plans, until they returned. I did, however, bring myself to be out on long walks or runs with our dog, I didn’t need to see anyone when I had him with me, I didn’t need to talk I could just cry, just he and I doing our own thing. They don’t ask any questions dogs, they don’t judge and they don’t give opinions, they just smile love you and want to be right by your side.

In 2015 my husband lost his job and as the main bread winner at that time, we had to leave the country we were living in. And so we embarked on moving to yet another country, the 3rd for him in 4 years and the 2nd for me in as many. We were leaving so many friends behind, and even though my depressive tendencies were there and my anxiety, I felt I had the greatest of friends, was connected, not lonely, not judged and fully supported and my symptoms were mildly suppressed for a few years because your attention goes where your energy flows, and my attention was on building a great life where we were, not on the sadness or the loss, because I knew my boys were with me every few weeks, and I could visit my dog and his new family at any time.

So,When my husband found a job in a new country, and we moved again, I knew nobody,  and I knew I was going to be alone at home all day everyday with no human connections and a language barrier. 

My children were living with their father a few thousand km away and I wanted to have a dog to be there and love every single day as I couldn’t be with my children. This was one of the contributing factors to my depression and anxiety. 

There was no real expat community at all.

So I declared that if I am to stay we must have a dog, because loneliness is literally a killer, and I love to be with people who I love and care for, and it doesn’t have to be many, just 5 people in my friendship circle that I can call upon, be supportive of each other, lift each others spirits and share love and encouragement with…..all of that was now only available by phone!!!!!

So after being in the new place for 3 months, and rarely speaking to anyone for days on end, especially if my husband was traveling, we found an incredible breeder and drove 4 hours to collect him when he was ready to leave his mum. We were asked to choose between him and his brother!!! choose, that seems so harsh right, but anyway his brother was being collected by another family the next day….. When we drove to collect him both my children were with me My eldest and I were instantly drawn to our boy, my youngest a little reserved ….we finally decided on this one and wanted to change his name, his given name was Jerry, actually it suited him but we collectively chose Rocco, he is Italian after all ! We were able to stay the night at the ranch in Italy with all of the dogs and horses they bred, it was such a wonderful experience, we went for dinner with the breeders and other families who were taking a pup and then the next day we collected our boy, hopped into the car and drove the 4 1/2 back to Switzerland.

Rocco destroyed the cardboard box within moments and so lay in between my sons most of the journey home (give or take a few pee stops).

A few days later my boys would return to their father and I would be alone all day whilst my husband was at work. Previously this would have been so painful and I would have just cried for days and avoided doing anything! but not now, I had to get up, get out (we lived in an apartment so couldn’t just open the door to the garden). I would slip on my winter boots and coat (hiding my pj’s if I hadn’t got dressed) and walk off toward the park…..I had to do this several times a day of course as he was training.

Thanks to him bringing a new lease of life and a reason to be, i lost some of my loneliness, albeit human connection was rare where we lived! I had a friend but it would often take 2 hours to drive there to see them, other than that it was Rocco and me and my husband when home or not travelling.

He became my 3rd child, and the bod, love and connection is so incredible, that he is literally my shadow.

Thanks and daily gratitude for having the new found reason to carry on.

A dog is not for everyone, and not everyone thinks they are a dog person, my husband being one, now its ridiculous, they totally adore each other!! but my pooch loves me more!!!! just to be clear!!!! 

Even the other day, I took him to an event and this lady seemed to be terrified of him, within just over one hour she was patting him asking all about him, where is his breeder and so on, thats one hell of a transformation.

So, did you know these facts I’m about to share with you about having a dog !

They Improve heart health

Dogs don’t just fill your heart; they actually make it stronger. 

Studies show that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks. What’s more, dog owners who do have heart attacks have better survival rates following the events. And of course you will walk and get out and about aka exercise (more on that below)

They Keep you fit and active

Health experts recommend that adults should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes worth of moderate exercise per week (I would love to see more people moving more often but that’s “stats”) Dog owners are way more likely to hit that time goal. “A dog helps more people be more active.” Because you have to get out whatever the weather: hail, rain, snow, or shine !!

Earlier this year (at the time of writing this), a recent study found that adults who walked with their dogs experienced lower BMI (Basal Metabolic Index).

By moving more this can also Help to lose weight and improve your health overall

Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, since they encourage you to into moderate physical activity”

Improve your social life. Researchers have also found that about 40 percent of dog owners make friends more easily. “Dog owners in particular tend to be a little more extroverted, or outgoing” (even an introvert will speak, to a fellow pet parent). Animal people tend to open up more and really blossom. They want to share stories about their favourite friend and if your pooch gets along with your new found animal loving friend this can be a great way to build new friendships and arrange walks etc together.”

They really can Reduce stress

There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective: Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neuro chemicals that play big roles in calm and wellbeing (the happy chemical in our brains) 

People performing stressful daily tasks do better when there’s a dog around, too, and studies show dogs ease tension both at the office and between married couples! even between the kids and parents……if ever theres a heated discussion, our dog is the first to intervene and calm a situation down.

They really do add meaning and purpose to your life. 

Loneliness is real!

The impact of loneliness on our health is more shocking than you probably realise!

Loneliness is a bigger problem than simply an emotional experience.

Research from campaign to end loneliness shows the that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity.

Loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.

In 2014 research showed that Two fifths all older people (approx 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014) and Approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s Loneliness Study

If you have felt loneliness, real loneliness, (statistics   a Dog takes care of that. They encourage people to continue to do things on a daily basis when otherwise you may have found reasons not to anything, not even eat, was or get dressed” 

So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk and play of course and seeing their joy in play can even make you laugh, smile and feel joy.

A Dog really can help prevent loneliness and isolation, which is key in staving off cognitive decline and disease, or a state of dis-ease (you have to think about them too) It helps us to not just focus on our needs and can help change your state of negative behaviour and thoughts to positive. Because the will bring you joy and more positivity daily, it is a nurturing process to see them be calm, happy, fed, respected and looked after, just as you should be.

“It gives us a reason to really get up in the morning……. I need to get up and take care of my friend here and get out, I need to get dressed, feed them and me too, we can do this and I’m so lucky to have you. I am grateful for you.

I give gratitude for my children and my boys daily, because having gratitude has given me the opportunity to still be here and to see another day, and because of having another day, I get to help more and more women live another day with more positivity, more hope, and live a life. Sometimes with a dog and sometimes without, but it is my dog who has blessed me to be here today.

Here is one of the best and I believe true reasons for pooch love: 

Can Stave off depression as pointed out earlier:

It’s widely believed that dog owners are less prone to depression than the dog-less, largely because they seem to help in so many other areas of health and wellbeing. The truth is somewhat more complicated. 

That said, therapy dogs—animals that do not stay in your home—have been shown to be effective in easing depression for a variety of people, old and young, sick and healthy.

So thats the stats part and heres my fact part…….

WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE WHAT HAS ME HERE WRITING THIS TO YOU TODAY…..

If It wasn’t for my best four legged friend, I know for sure that I wouldn’t be here today to share this info with you. My depression and anxiety as well as loneliness was becoming so overwhelming just over 2 years ago that I didn’t want to wash, dress, speak or actually function, the only thing that got me out was him, even if I did go out in my PJ’s I got out!!!! (This is a brief story and one a may share in more details at a later date) He helped me get focused and study to gain my IIN Health Coaching Graduation!!!

Prevent kiddies allergies

Dogs and cats actually lower a child’s chance of becoming allergic to pets— by up to 33 percent when they hang around them!!!!! 

According to a 2004 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

As a side bonus, if you have small children they might even develop a stronger immune system. 

You know like when we were kids, filthy and playing in the dirt, unlike today where new moms tend to panic at the slightest sign of muck and kids are not subjected to dirt like we used to be!!

Battle disease and injury – It’s believed that owning a dog can help detect, treat, and manage a variety of illnesses and debilitations, because they hang around and can feel anxious when they know something is not aligned and well with you emotionally and physically.

A few examples:

Some have been trained to sniff out skin, kidney, bladder, and prostate cancer, among others. 

Service dogs are known to benefit people with everything from traumatic brain injury to autism to rheumatoid arthritis, increasing mobility and promoting independence. Also the bond with service dogs and their carers is phenomenal, have you ever watched a war veteran be reconnected with their dog?!

Alzheimer’s patients are soothed by dogs, whose companionship also seems to mitigate emotional flare-ups and aggression.

The benefits of having a fury bond when you spend most of the time by yourself as an expat or wherever you may be is worth the time to invest in them to be there by your side.

As I finish this post right now Rocco is sat on my feet and I feel blessed, and so now it is of outside to get fresh air, move our bodies and listen to an inspirational podcast, and who knows I may even bump into an English speaking Expat!!

Alison Stockton

Vibrant Balanced Health & Wellness Coach for women

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