Around 7% of American adults have social anxiety disorder – one that is characterized by strong fear or anxiety in one or more types of social setting. Those who have social anxiety can isolate and feel alone, making recovery more difficult.
The ‘gold standard treatment’ for social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is used to help people deal with the thoughts and physical symptoms produced by the disorder.
Support groups can also be helpful, as can other approaches that can be used alongside CBT. Studies have shown that dogs can also help people deal with the typical symptoms of social anxiety, and even open the path towards new relationships and friendships.
Dogs And Anxiety
A study by researchers at Georgia State University showed that animal-assisted therapy with dogs could reduce both anxiety and loneliness. The study focused on college students, around 60% of whom reported lower anxiety levels after following this mode of therapy.
The students interacted with a therapy dog, petting, hugging, feeding, brushing, drawing, photographing, and just sitting near and playing with them.
The researchers stated that dogs can help with a host of conditions, including mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. They can also help improve the therapeutic connection between a person and their mental health professional.
Dogs Help Older Adults Build Social Connections As Well
Research conducted at the University of Michigan has shown that pet owners aged 50 and 80 also benefit from their pets, with three quarters of all pet owners saying that their pets reduce their stress levels and give them a sense of purpose.
Indeed, dogs require care and daily exercise, and many pet owners also put a considerable amount of care into ensuring their dog eats healthily and accesses supplements if needed. As a dog gets older, its care and dietary needs may change.
Many owners are very much in tune with their dogs’ needs, ensuring they have all the veterinary and complementary care they need. Dogs return the favor, say researchers, by helping seniors cope with the physical and mental issues they are facing, and by fostering new social connections and activities with friends and family.
Trauma And Pet Companionship
Many people who have been through traumatic events (including survivors of school shootings, children with autism, and seniors with depression) benefit from simply having a dog’s companionship at home.
There is a strong link between traumatic experiences and social anxiety, with this condition sometimes arising after a traumatic event. Pets can be helpful when it comes to reducing stress and providing companionship and unconditional friendship.
While not many studies have been carried out on the link between dogs and social anxiety per se, research does show that having a dog or attending dog therapy can reduce the symptoms associated with this disorder.
Dogs lower stress levels, for instance, and promote social interaction. Since they need walks, vet visits and the like, they require owners to venture forth into the world and meet like-minded pet lovers who go to many lengths to ensure their dog is healthy and well-cared for.