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Dogs Are Like Prozac

April 13, 2020

More noise from black screens, increased crumbs on the couch, lack of clean socks and frequent delays, or even worse cancellations to daily walk schedules have been some of the concerning behaviors displayed by beloved owners showing signs of the classic doggy diagnosis’.

Seemingly overnight many of us were abruptly and somewhat traumatically separated from our comfortable lives and social networks. Our daily routines, both personal and professional, have been turned upside down as we find ourselves restricted to our homes and physically isolated from other humans. This has resulted in a diminished sense of human connection that when combined with the unprecedented levels of uncertainty and fear from the pandemic have left people more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression.

As we face our emotional challenges and the fear of the unknown an everyday hero has emerged from behind the couch carrying a ball. With tails wagging and slobber flying, dogs everywhere have leapt into action to provide critical emotional support and mental health services during the COVID‌19 Crisis. After all who is more equipped to show empathy and support than those that have experienced separation anxiety in the past.

On the surface level it’s obvious why being socially isolated with a dog increases your resilience and emotional wellness — they provide unconditional love, companionship, physical touch (snuggles and kisses) and entertainment. All these things that can be hard to come by when you have been isolated for weeks on end. Yet to stop there would be an injustice to the work they are actually doing and the much deeper profound effect they have on our emotional wellness — especially as we lean on them more during this time.

Daily our furry pals work tirelessly behind the scenes putting their paws to good use well beyond their most known roles of man’s best friend, chief snuggle officer and America’s funniest home video super star, to fulfill other vital roles that boost our mental and emotional wellness and resilience. These include:

Our furry emotional support companion’s resume runs deep including not only their most known roles of man’s best friend, chief snuggle officer and Instagram super star, but other other vital roles that boost our mental and emotional wellness and resilience. These include:

Bond Buddy: To open a door and be greeted by another being that is so happy, grateful and excited to see you that they occasionally pee themselves is one of the best parts of being a dog owner. This daily event has the ability to innately evoke a deep sense of joy, love and belonging within us. This is because we experiencing something called social recognition, where the dog sees you and recognizes you are significant to them. Social recognition is part of how we form bonds with others and these bonds drive the feeling of social connection.

In a time that our human social connectivity is challenged, we can rely on those bonds with our furry friends to fill some of the gap. This itself further increases the reliability, trust and value we derive from them and you guessed it — boost our happiness and resilience.

Self Care Enforcer: Stress can do crazy things to our self care and daily routines. We often forget to wake up early, exercise appears optional, food is an afterthought and binging on the media becomes more than a habit. ‌For a dog — all these activities are unacceptable and trigger stressed responses such as endless barking, holes in clothes and counter surfing. Dogs love and almost mandate a consistent routine, one that involves exercise, nutrition, leisure time, focused learning and family time.

For our efforts we are repaid with a fun, loving and obedient companion and a more harmonious relationship. During highly unpredictable times, Humans are much like dogs — we do better when we know what to expect. Having a consistent schedule that ensures we take care of ourselves is key for minimizing stress and boosting our happiness levels.

Stress Watch Dog: “If you want to see how you are feeling emotionally just look at Pi (my dog)” my therapist told me. This may sound crazy, a 2019 study indicates that dogs may synchronize their stress levels with ours. While this may seem unfortunate during these times, it actually can be an advantageous gift to us. Let me explain — if we can non emotionally look at our dogs and observe their behaviors we can approximate our own stress levels.

This is an easier process than the self assessment of oneself as dogs are external to us and thus creates a non-personalized way to do this. If we can then turn these observations into actions that help us mitigate our dogs’ stress (giving to others) and subsequently our own (self-care) — then we have a positive feedback loop that allows for early intervention to avoid more serious problems.

In a few weeks, as we have emerged from our social distancing and some of us head back to work it will be our turn to step up and repay the favor to our amazing canine heroes. I only hope that our experience with separation anxiety makes us better equipped to help our furry friends re-adjust to their old lives of more time alone and social distance from their owners.

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