Young woman lifts up and hugs her dog

How Getting a Dog Helped Lift Me Out of Anxiety and Depression

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I first began experiencing anxiety and depression at the age of 14 after being bullied at school for years. While at first it would come and go, anxiety and depression eventually became a constant presence in my life. It was like a perpetual cough that eventually starts to get better, only to come back worse than before. Only unlike a cough, where usually I am still able to function, anxiety and depression hits like a ton of bricks and even the idea of getting out of bed seems to be a goal that becomes less and less attainable. As time passed, more and more of my days started to be spent paralyzed by endless thoughts of regrets of the past and worries for the future.

I was so intent on finding the solution to overcoming my anxiety and depression that I studied mental health in school, from college to grad school for seven years. Yet, I still felt I hadn’t come close to grasping how to manage my own anxiety and depression. I felt confident about helping others, but horribly useless at helping myself. Something was missing, a piece to my puzzle I had yet to discover.

I tried everything, antidepressants, special teas, yoga, vitamins and anything I read about in books and from advice given by doctors. I bought a membership to the gym because of how beneficial exercise is for mental health. However, every day, I would drag my feet to the gym, hating every moment of it from beginning to end. Oh, how I loathe the gym. I even moved eight hours away from home in the hopes of having a new beginning, a new me, but that just seemed to make things worse. I felt isolated and lost in an unknown city.

This was my life for more than 10 years, getting better just to fall again and start over. It felt like a constant uphill battle, swimming against the current. I started to feel like nothing was going to work. I started to believe I’d have to live the rest of my life with this dark cloud constantly hanging over me, rearing its ugly head just when things are starting to look up.

Until one day, I fell upon an article that talked about how dogs were able to help people with their mental health, like anxiety and depression. I had always loved dogs. My family had many growing up and they had always been wonderful companions. So I decided I was going to get a dog. I settled on the idea of getting a Pembroke Welsh Corgi because if they were good enough for the Queen, they were good enough for me. (Not to mention they are hilarious and cute.)

When I brought my little corgi, Buddy, home in November of 2014, I didn’t realize at the time how much he would truly change my life, but it didn’t happen right away. Once the new puppy excitement went away, the anxiety and depression crept back as it always had. I woke up one morning and felt those familiar feelings again. The weight on my shoulders, the nausea in my stomach, the feelings of hopelessness and worry. I knew the anxiety and depression had come back hard and felt depleted. I didn’t want to get out of bed. It felt impossible. I turned to pull the covers back over my head and give up for the day. What I always did. That’s when I came face to face with Buddy.

Buddy started jumping all over me, kissing my face, letting me know it was time to go outside. It was as if he was saying, “It’s no time to be sad. The world is awesome!” For the first time in my life, on a day when my anxiety and depression was present full force, I got out of bed. I put on my winter boots, snow pants, gloves, hat, scarf, coat and went for a walk in the snow with my new best friend. I realized at that moment, walking down the street in minus 30 degree weather, my life was changing. I really was a new person. This was my new beginning, my missing puzzle piece.

funnybuddy

Dog standing in the snow

It has been over a year and a half since that day and I have never spent another day unable to get out of bed. I have not cried myself to sleep or spent my days paralyzed by fear and regret. Sure, I still have days when I feel sad or anxious, but with my best Buddy by my side, I have finally learned how to manage these feelings and emotions.

I finally realized the answer to my decade-long question of how to manage anxiety and depression — exercise, laughter and love — all things that were unattainable for me before but were only achieved by getting a dog. The reason these three things are so key is they all trigger the release of the chemical serotonin, the feel-good chemical in our brains. By having increased levels of serotonin every day, symptoms of anxiety and depression can dramatically decrease.

Before Buddy came into my life, I was not able to get enough exercise because there was nothing truly motivating me to exercise, which made my attempts at changing my life to be more active short lived. I wasn’t getting enough laughter because as an introverted person, socializing is not my forte. So I don’t spend a lot of time with friends or doing activities that promote laughter. I had a lot of love in my life from my friends and family but not the kind of unconditional love you get from a dog. It wasn’t the kind of love that greets you at the door every day after a long day of work and just turns everything around.

A dog motivates you to get out the door for fresh air and exercise, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. A dog brings you so much laughter and joy, unlike anything I’ve experienced before, with their unique personalities and hilarious quirks (search “funny dog videos” and you’ll know exactly what I am talking about). Lastly, a dog brings you unconditional love, the kind of love that never stops. With these three things in your life, anxiety and depression can be part of your past as it has become a part of mine.

Getting a dog can dramatically change the way you are able to manage your anxiety, depression or simply your overall mental health; however, it’s important to consider many things before getting a dog. Thousands of dogs are abandoned at shelters every year because owners were unaware of how much time and money a dog requires. If you are considering getting a dog to help improve your mental health, then here are some things to consider:

1. Do I have time for a dog?

A dog requires a minimum of two hours a day of your time and attention. A puppy requires even more, around four hours a day. Not ready to commit to raising a puppy? Consider rescuing a dog in need of a home. Thousands of dogs are in need of homes.

2. What breed do I want?

If you want a dog who will motivate you to exercise, then pick a dog breed that requires the level of exercise you want to partake in. Dog breeds range from low to high exercise requirements. Also, dog breeds are known for different personalities. Pick one that suits you. I picked a Pembroke Welsh Corgi because they are known to be funny and loving.

3. Do I have the money?

While dogs do not need to be expensive, it’s important to make sure you have enough money to support their needs. This includes all of their accessories, training tools, food, treats and vet bills.

Getting a dog was the missing piece in my puzzle in helping me learn to manage my anxiety and depression and could be the piece that changes your life. No matter what your missing piece may be, whether you know what it is or not, never lose hope that things will get better.

“Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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You Don’t Need a Reason to Be Depressed or Anxious

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For some reason, people seem to be under the illusion you need to have a reason to have depression or anxiety. It’s not true. That’s not how it works. You can be well off, in shape, beautiful, handsome, have a great job and a loving significant other and still be unhappy. It’s just how depression and/or anxiety works. (Please note, there’s a difference, but for many people, these illnesses go hand in hand.)

For others, there’s a reason for it. For me, there was a reason behind my anxiety. I mean, I was always an over-thinker, a worrier and a fairly sensitive person in general. However, due to an extreme set of domino-like circumstances, my anxiety became full-blown and I became depressed. I’m talking really, truly, “I can’t get out of bed” depressed. I told no one (until now, I guess), except my partner.

While I’m still sick and dealing with health issues, technically the problems I was having with workplace bullying and rejection are over. I say technically because I quit my job and I moved 12 hours away. So, technically, my “reason” should be gone, but it’s not.

I’m different now. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m different and not in a positive way. I used to bounce and be bubbly, but I don’t do that anymore. I don’t trust people the way I used to. When I met people, I used to pretty much like everyone instantly. There’s probably a handful of people in my entire life I disliked immediately after meeting them. I wasn’t that type of person. To be fair, I still like people. This hasn’t changed about me. I just no longer trust them to like me.

While my “reason” has technically disappeared, and while I’d say emotionally I’m doing much better, I still have bad days. I still cry for no reason and for every reason. I still get panic attacks for unexplained reasons, and I hate going anywhere unfamiliar. I hate spontaneity because I can’t prepare my anxiety levels. I don’t know why I still feel this way, after a year of separation, quitting and moving.

Maybe it’s because no one told me it was OK to feel the way I did. Maybe there’s a quota of how much can happen to someone before they break, and I just happened to reach mine. Now, I’m a little broken inside or maybe it’s one of those great mysteries of life. There is no reason, and sometimes we feel the way we do just because we do.

We need to be compassionate and empathic, even when a person has no reason (in your mind or even theirs) to be depressed or anxious. Because reasons can be overrated.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Melodramatic Confessions of Carla Louise.

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When Anxiety Starts a Cycle of 'What Ifs'

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My boyfriend invited me to Bike Party tonight. Considering how clingy it’s been lately, I extended the invitation to anxiety, as well. I may as well. It’s coming regardless of whether I want it to or not. Bike Party is a monthly, weekend event in my hometown, where a large group of people meet up at night on their bikes and ride a predetermined route together. There is music, and it’s overall a blast from what I hear.

Let’s all laugh out loud at once. What a perfect event for someone like me, who totes her anxiety like it’s the newest hot accessory. (Note the sarcasm here.) This is my literal nightmare. Large crowds, night time bike riding, cars, crowding, traffic, so many unknowns. Oh, hello anxiety!

I’ve never been to Bike Party before, mostly because of the aforementioned reasons. So many things could go wrong. I’m talking worst-case scenario things because obviously that’s where my brain takes me. Anxiety causes me to jump down the rabbit hole almost immediately.

Rather than think about how much fun I would have spending time with my partner, I think about the clearly inevitable moment when a car comes careening through the crowd of bicyclists, crushing us all in frustration. Rather than get excited about how fun bicycling is, I’ve already determined I will not be able to keep up with my boyfriend’s pace. Instead, I’ll be the heaving, sweaty, grunting person pulling up the rear, frantically looking over my shoulder for, you guessed it, inevitable careening car.

What if I get a flat tire? What if we go into a neighborhood I’m not comfortable with? What if I get tired but he wants to keep going? What if we get separated? I could keep going, but I’ll spare you the never-ending thought train.

Each of those “what if” questions has their own little cascading group of questions to follow it, similar to a family tree or a brainstorming exercise. Let’s just take the, “What if I get a flat tire?” question as an example. What if I get a flat tire? Will I have the tools to fix it? What if it’s not fixable and we have to walk? What if we have to walk miles? What if my shoes hurt my feet on said walk? What if we ran into trouble? Maybe I should just get a ride so I don’t have to worry about dangerous situations. If I got an Uber, do they have bike racks? Oh Lord, Jesus take the wheel.

Anxiety has determined this will be a bumpy ride. My boyfriend has been begging me to do this with him for years (Literal years.) Sure, I could say no. I don’t want to go. It would certainly end part of my anxiety troubles.

Ultimately though, if I was at home and he was out there, then I’d just be stewing about all the same worries, with him as the main character instead of myself. Now that I’ve finally said OK, all he can think about is how much fun we will have together. Meanwhile, I’m over here planning a doomsday scenario in my mind within seconds of agreeing.

I’m tired of living like this. It’s so easy to fall down the hole into the worry abyss, never to return. Yet, the logical part of my mind is strong, and urges me to just try. Because the one “what if” question my anxiety never seems to visit is: What if I have fun? Gasp!

So, I said yes, despite my anxiety’s best effort to stop me. When my mind is clear, Bike Party does sound fun in theory to me. I wish I could be cavalier and drop all my worries, but I have to accept my brain just doesn’t work that way. I’m going to confront the worries head on, woman up and hit the streets with my boo tonight. I may get squashed by a car, but probably not. I may get tired, but he won’t force me to truck on. I may get a flat. I may not.

Anxiety, buckle up. We are going on a bike ride tonight.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Things I Don't Want to Hear as Someone With Anxiety and Depression

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People with mental health problems have probably heard it all. “Just smile.” “Just stop thinking about it.” “Just go to bed early.” Here’s a little list of what you could not say to someone who may be struggling. I’ve written these down from things people have said to me, or things I know other people have heard.

Anxiety

1. But why are you anxious?

We don’t always know. Really. It can be annoying, we know, but sometimes the anxiety just hits us for an unknown reason.

2. Just stop being anxious.

Cured us right there! Not. If only it was that easy!

3. Why don’t you just come out with us? You’re so boring.

We don’t necessarily enjoy sitting in our rooms all day, but sometimes facing the outside world is just a no for us. Perhaps seeing just a small group of people indoors at first and gradually getting our guts up to leave the house would be easier.

4. You’re just being silly.

What might seem silly to you could seem like the end of the world to us. Sometimes, just stepping into a shop can make us anxious. Give us time.

Depression

1. Why are you sad?

We don’t always know. Seriously.

2. You have nothing to be depressed about.

Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have depression. It can be a chemical imbalance in the brain. We don’t want to be like this. We didn’t ask to be like this. And to be honest, you don’t always know what a person has going on in her life behind closed doors. People with depression are often good actors; we can act totally fine when we’re actually not.

3. Just think happy thoughts.

Well, why didn’t I think of that in the first place? No. It. Does not. Work like that.

4. You seem happy today. Are you cured?

We are allowed to be happy and have depression. Having depression doesn’t mean I have to be sad 24/7. I can still have a laugh, I can still smile. I can still try and have fun!

5. Depression isn’t real. It’s just in your head.

Yes, it is in my head, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Depression is a medically-diagnosed illness. It is very real!

6. You seem a bit sad today. Did you forget to take your medication?

Yes, I have heard this one before. It does not work like that. I can still have bad or good days while I am taking my medication. I don’t get 100 percent better as soon as I start my tablets, and if I miss a dose it doesn’t mean I will sit and cry all day.

It can hurt to hear things like this. You might not think it would, but it often does. We may not act like it does, but it can circle in our heads for a long time. If you don’t understand, maybe it’s best not to say what you think, or do some research. Just try to be a bit sensitive.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Fish Out of Water 96.

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When You Can’t Do What You Want to Do Because of Your Anxiety

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Today, I’d like to talk about something that means a great deal to me. When I was younger and didn’t deal with anxiety as much, I loved going places. I loved shopping, going to birthday parties and really just getting out of the house. However, now that my anxiety is much worse and harder to cope with, it’s difficult for me to get out.

Do I miss it? Absolutely! Do I wish I could just go wherever I want and have a good time without worrying? 100 percent, yes! However, as many of you who struggle with anxiety know, it’s not always that easy. As much as we may want to do something, sometimes our anxiety holds us back. In fact, sometimes it’s difficult for us to even picture going anywhere without feeling anxious.

Unfortunately, I don’t think people always understand this. I have relatives who seriously believe if I wanted to do things badly enough, I just would. I’m sorry to say this is not the case. When my mom or someone else invites me to go somewhere, I want so much to say, “Yes! When are we going?” Usually though, I don’t. Usually, I say, “I’m sorry I can’t, but I wish I could.”

It’s admittedly hard to feel as though people don’t believe you, especially your loved ones. I don’t want my family and friends to think I don’t miss doing things with them or I don’t wish I could. The truth is though I know I’m not ready to go somewhere and walk around for an extended period of time. I also know some of the people I’d be going with are not understanding. If I had to leave, then they would get frustrated. I’m not trying to blame others. I’m just stating the facts.

I’m writing this to let anyone who struggles to do the things they want because of anxiety that I understand. You’re not alone. I’m also writing this to remind those who have loved ones who struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues, that we don’t like going through this. We would much rather be going somewhere exciting or doing something fun!

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Getting Through Anxiety.

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A Weekday With Anxiety

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I’ve been struggling with anxiety for quite some time now, and I’ve noticed how many people don’t understand why I get so panicky and stressed out all the time. So to all those people, this article is for you.

My brain talks to me all day, every day and doesn’t stop. This is what a day in my head looks like.

5:00 a.m. “Oh my God, what time is it? Why didn’t my alarm clock ring?”

I check my watch, and when I see it’s OK, I try to get back to sleep. But the voice continues to speak.

“If you fall into a deep sleep you won’t wake when your alarm rings.” “It might not even ring at all. Did you even remember to set it last night?”

I check that it’s set, and see that it’s fine. Still too scared it might not ring, I stay awake till it gets light.

7:00 a.m. Breakfast time.

“Is the soy milk out of date? No, it’s fine. But how long has it been in the fridge for? What if it’s gone bad? Maybe that’s why last night I didn’t feel well… because I ate something that was bad.”

8:00 a.m. Leaving for work.

I check I have my keys, phone, money, bus card.

“But wait, am I missing something? I’m sure I’m forgetting something! What am I forgetting?”

I leave the house, get to the bottom of the stairs and…

“Did I lock the door?”

I run back up and check. It’s locked all right. I hurry down before I miss the bus. I run to the bus stop in fear I’ll miss it, even though I’m 10 minutes early. I get to the bus stop and search eagerly for my bus card.

“Where is it? I just made sure I had it! Oh, there it is, underneath all those receipts. Did I lock the door? Where’s my phone? Why isn’t the bus coming? I’m going to be late for work!”

Finally the bus comes, and I relax.

“No, wait, where’s my phone? Did I leave it at the bus stop? Never mind, it’s right here in my hand.”

I fall asleep during the bus ride from sheer exhaustion, even though the day’s just started. At work my boss calls me into his office.

“Oh my God, am I about to get fired?”

Thankfully he only wants to talk about work-related things. I get back to my desk and try to get on with my work, but thoughts keep coming to my head.

“Is the dog ok? What if she’s messed up the flat? She might have chewed up the sofa, and your landlord’s gonna be furious. He might not let you keep her. You’ll have to give her away.”

I start to feel sick. I desperately need the loo.

“Please don’t be sick.”

I open Facebook in hopes that it might somehow calm me down. I leave work in plenty of time to catch the last bus, but my first bus is late and there’s tons of traffic, and the whole journey I’m terrified I’ll miss the last bus home.

“I can always take a different route instead of the bus straight home,” I try to tell myself, but I’m only relaxed once I’m on the second bus and know I’m almost home.

The day doesn’t end there.

I get on the bus and double, triple, quadruple check I’ve got my keys, phone, bus card, credit card and extra cash… just in case. I get off the bus and check once more that I’ve definitely got my keys and that they haven’t fallen out of my bag and been left on the bus. I feel sweaty walking up the road. I’m still picturing the couch with a huge hole in the middle and my dog having a party in all the stuffing. I get to my door and search frantically for the keys that were just there a minute ago. With my hands shaking, I unlock the door, turn on the lights and see the house is just as I left it. I take the dog for a nice long stroll, not so worried now that I have someone to protect me from danger. I get back and go to bed. But I don’t fall asleep so easily. The day is over, but the night has only just begun. And that you can read about here.

Image via Thinkstock.

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