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My animals give me the nonjudgmental support I need for my social anxiety

Having pets helps me tame my anxiety

One of the best parts of dog ownership is having a friend you never worry about judging you. I personally feel I can already count on my closer friends not to judge me (or if they do, not to hold it against me), but there's always that little pinch of social paranoia with human interaction. Face-to-face, there are a hundred things to over analyze with the people we love, and I can read too much into almost anything someone says or does.

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Having pets helps me tame my anxiety
Image: Kate Cann

Yet with my dogs, there's no scowl over those button eyes when I need to set my head down on my desk for a minute or hide in bed for a little while mid-afternoon. There's no misreading or worrying about their quiet judgement – my dogs don't bother hiding it when they're sad, stressed, scared or overstimulated. It's some of the most truly honest interaction you can have.

Don't mistake that attitude for simplicity either, because every animal has its own personality, and you really grow to love them as unconditionally as they do you. That's mostly because relaxing, playing and generally being happy are the primary hobbies for the smaller members of the household. Of course, that lack of scrutiny could be the appeal for nearly any house pet, but with dogs we get the unconditional loyalty and added emotional connection that comes from thousands of years of history between our species. It's in their genetics to be family/pack members and do their part – which for most modern dogs means simply existing. They're essentially focused on food, fun and you and that's why they're so beneficial to our mental health.

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For starters, dog owners generally have lower cholesterol and fewer indicators of heart trouble. Spending time with animals can have a profound effect on everything from your blood pressure to your confidence, among a seemingly endless list of other benefits most pet owners would chime in to add to.

Just ten minutes with your dog will significantly raise levels of oxytocin (a calming hormone) in both your bodies, which elevates your mood in turn. If you've got children – or maybe kids are in your future – your little ones get the benefit that time spent bonding with animals to help them develop into balanced young adults. That's not to mention the benefit of constant contact aiding their immune systems and helping to ward off future allergens.

If you get nervous in social situations – whether you've got genuine social anxiety or just don't fancy yourself much of a people person – your pet can be a great ice breaker. I can't count the number of times I've been stopped (or stopped someone) while walking our dogs, even if it's just for a stranger to reminisce on a long-passed pet they were reminded of. You're also sharing common interests with an incredible group of people – the majority of animal lovers are incredibly caring, varied individuals from all walks of life. You're immediately part of a kind and vast community of generally fantastic folks with a common bond: The very same kind of love I'm writing about.

All of this said, you shouldn't run out to adopt a pet as some kind of miracle cure for stress instead of a medical consultation. Also bear in mind your personal financial situation. Animal care isn't cheap, and we're talking about a living creature that relies on you, not an iPad you can leave on the shelf and come back to when the mood strikes. Being unprepared will only lead to the gut-wrenching reality of having to re-home your best friend for their own benefit, and that's not something either of you should have to endure.

Part of my routine has become managing a tiny hurricane of chew toys, poo bags and stray hairs in the nose. The positives outweigh the inconveniences by too much to ignore, and the next time I stub my toe on the doggie ramp attached to the end of my bed at 3 a.m., I'll do my best to remember my words here.

Originally posted on Calm Canada and BlogHer

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