The Key to Keeping My Anxiety in Check Amid COVID-19? My 2 Dogs

I am definitely a fully obsessed dog mom all the time, but during this pandemic, my dogs have brought me even more joy than normal — and helped decrease my anxiety. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (as well as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder) when I was in college. Over the years, I've learned how to handle my anxiety fairly well, but my dogs are especially helpful when it comes to managing my anxiety. This pandemic has brought about some extra worrying, and I've appreciated my dogs even more than usual. I know I'm not the only one whose pets help with anxiety — everyone knows that having a pet is good for the soul, even without a global pandemic.

I am lucky enough to have two dogs. Olive is a 52 lb. cattle dog and pit bull mix. She belonged to my wife before I met her, but Olive and I were fast friends. While Olive is more protective and standoffish, she is highly sensitive to emotions. If I cry or seem upset, she jumps into my lap no matter where I am sitting and licks my face until I stop. I also have a small dog named Hank. Hank is a pit bull, chihuahua, pug mix, and weighs 16 lbs. Hank and I are joined at the hip; we joke that he is my husband. If I leave the room, he comes with me, and even when I am exercising or getting ready for the day, he is always standing close by, looking me right in the eye. The obsession is mutual. Not only do my wife and I adore our dogs, our dogs adore one another. While they aren't big snugglers with each other, they love to run around together, and often stop and "check in" on the other one with some friendly sniffs and licks. The two of them truly complete our family, and since we aren't having kids, we really dote on them.

My dogs have been great for helping me cope with anxiety during the coronavirus. First and foremost, they give me purpose and something to focus on beyond my own self. No matter what else is happening, my dogs need food, water, attention, and walks. Plus, from the moment I wake up, I have company and something to take care of. Olive, our bigger dog, absolutely loves her meals and expects them on time. Every morning at 6 a.m., she whines and barks until we feed her. It's annoying (especially when we are tired) but her insistence keeps me from sleeping all day, or just staying in bed, something I can be tempted to do if I'm feeling extra anxious. While Hank prefers to stay cuddled in bed, as soon as his sister starts barking for food, he tries to pull the blankets off of us to let us know he's hungry, too. When I feel anxious, getting out of bed can feel nearly impossible, but Olive would never allow that. Plus, spending time with them gives me something to look forward to, which can motivate me out of bed as well.

My dogs also need to be walked, and that helps get me out of the house and moving my body. I have found that going outside for some fresh air and some light movement really helps dissolve my anxiety, and I am grateful that my dogs provide motivation to do it even when I don't feel like it. Both of my dogs get antsy if they're cooped up for too long, and will remind us (usually through some gentle barking and whining) that playing in the backyard is no substitute for a good, long walk around the neighborhood. My wife and I have made these daily walks a priority, and it helps us stay connected as well — we get out from behind our computers and spend time together. Everyone feels better after these walks and it's such a good reminder that we need air and movement to thrive.

And even though my dogs aren't trained support dogs, they provide a lot of emotional support — Hank in particular. Hank is almost always glued to me, and he absolutely loves to snuggle and be petted. Recently, I was finishing up a work task that felt overwhelming. As if by a sixth sense, Hank knew I was feeling stressed and he came over and wedged his head under my laptop until I was forced to stop and give his soft ears a pet. It was a good reminder to take a break, and that simple reset helped my whole mood. Plus, I feel deeply loved by both Olive and Hank every day, something that feels extra nice in a time when life feels pretty lonely. Not seeing my friends and co-workers has been really challenging, and spending time with my dogs has helped me cope. Dogs are obviously unaware of what is happening, and their carefree, loving attitude reminds me to be positive. My dogs are still obsessed with happily playing with their toys, running around, and snuggling with me at every opportunity. Their simple joy helps me feel hopeful and their unconditional love grounds me; even just taking a moment to pet them can bring me back to the present.

I love having dogs — it's one of my favorite things in life. Now, I love it even more, because I get to be home with my dogs all the time. Their love and the joy they bring me has helped soothe me. They also give me a reason to get out of the house and take care of something beyond myself, especially when my anxiety is threatening to overtake me. Having dogs is always wonderful, but during this pandemic, it has been even more important to my mental and physical health.