Written by CAL Practitioner Alison Brazier
This week, 15th-23rd May 2023 is Mental Health Awareness week and the theme is Anxiety.
Anxiety has become one of the most talked about topics in mental health. Anxiety levels in the population increased throughout the pandemic and it is reported that they have not yet dropped to pre-pandemic levels. The Mental Health Foundation chose it as a theme this year to provide a better understanding of what anxiety is, when it becomes a concern and what we can do to help ourselves and each other when anxiety starts to become a problem.
Anxiety itself is a common emotion that we have all likely experienced at some point in our lives. In fact, a certain level of anxiety actually serves a purpose and can keep us safe and aware of possible dangers, allowing us to react faster in emergency situations. However, for some people it can be a life limiting condition. Anxiety disorders affect over 8 million people in the UK, that’s a little over 1 in 10 of us, and there are many different types including OCD, PTSD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Phobias and separation anxiety.
Animals can trigger the release of endorphins, the feel-good transmitters which give a calming effect and boost the levels of serotonin, a chemical linked with happiness and well-being. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness and improve all-round mental health. The human-animal bond is one that has huge emotional, psychological and physical benefits.
In the PMLD school that I work in I see one particular student with high levels of anxiety. He is triggered by noise and the behaviours of certain people around him. When he first enters the therapy room he is always wearing his ear defenders, he has his hands up over his head and is obviously anxious and fearful. The use of therapeutic touch and the gentle brushing of our CAL therapy dog Larnie immediately brings his anxiety levels down. We walk Larnie around the school grounds and he continues to visibly relax as his attention turns to the dog and our surroundings. By the end of the session he is relaxed and smiling and has taken his ear defenders off.
As well as all of the science and statistics, from personal and professional experience, it is clear that the benefits of dogs are huge and far reaching. Those big eyes that see into your soul, the head in your lap, the soft touch of their fur, their unconditional love and non-judgemental nature, their ability to be lively and playful or calm and comforting. This mental health awareness week, and in fact every week, I hope you have the opportunity to walk in the sun with a dog, play fetch in the fields, or just take time to sit and experience the love and companionship that they bring just by being them.