Dogs Saving Students from Stress
Dogs are one of the most common household pets in America with the American Pet Product Association having found that 48 percent of households owned one or more dogs in 2016. Having one as a pet can cause many beneficial reactions in people as they’re not only great companions but their ability to cause the release of Oxytocin in people allows for the stress of their owners to be less than that of non-dog owners with the CDC having found that 21 percent of children that don’t own dog testing positive for a screening of anxiety and on 12 percent of pet-owning testing positive.
With their perpetually optimistic attitudes and overall ability to keep people happy, it’s no wonder that one of the main selling points of these furry friends is their impact on the mental health of their owners with many people utilizing their dogs as nonverbal therapists according to. Sophomore Mya Thomas’s dog Juneau has given her support in both her home and school lives.
“Juneau acts as a therapist in that way because the simplest of actions that he does, like leaning against my leg as I’m trying to cram information, will relieve some stress,” Thomas said. “Juneau is another shoulder to lean on to let go of negative emotion. he truly has motivated me and made me smile through tough situations at school and at home even though he doesn’t know it.”
Not only can dogs aide with mental health, but they’re also a great way to teach responsibility as teenagers are able to be the primary caretakers of their dogs from feeding them to helping them exercise. Sophomore Kaitlyn Stever’s dog, Busa, has not only made her feel more joy but has taught her about being more responsible.
“My life has definitely improved since I got Busa. I think he makes me happier,” Stever said.
“It’s also taught me to be responsible for someone besides myself.”
In spite of the fact that dogs can benefit students’ mental health and responsibility, some students don’t use them for stress relief purposes or to get through tough times, sophomore Ellie Carver-Horner while loving her dogs doesn’t rely on them as much as other during the hard times, saying “Having a pet hasn’t really helped me get through any difficult periods. I love them, and they’re fun to have around, but there’s nothing specific that they’ve helped me with.”
Whether or not students have a dog in their lives it’s important to keep things that keep them happy and healthy. Even if students don’t have a dog at home they can interact with one at school; Leslie Kersha, an RBHS counselor, has been bringing her dig Briar to RBHS as she works with him on becoming a therapy dog.
“When Briar has been at school, I always take him to the halls during passing time and before or after school, so as many students as possible have the opportunity to interact with him if they want to do so. There are always many students who stop to pet him. While petting him, they often talk about their own dogs (if they have them), ask questions about him, and a lot of students have made comments about how their day is better now, or how they feel better now, or how they needed that today,” Kersha said. “I’ve also had students in my office who are normally very closed off and reserved who are able to open up more when Briar is here, and they are able to pet him.”
“I’ve also had students in my office who are normally very closed off and reserved who are able to open up more when Briar is here, and they are able to pet him.”
Dogs are just one of the many ways students at RBHS can alleviate the stress brought on by their school and home lives and keep themselves going in at an upward trajectory toward a happy life. “My life definitely has improved with Juneau in it because since the day we brought him home he has never failed to make me be happy,” Thomas said. “He gives me another reason to smile every day, and I think it’s very important to have something in your life that can lift you up like that.”
Fret not: Pets!
After coming home from a busy and stressful day at school, many students enter the house anxious and ready to procrastinate. Their faces down, lulled into the bright visuals on their phones, these teenagers seem relieved to just be home, wanting nothing to do with the raging pressure of finals week around them. But suddenly, their faces pull away from their screens in a happy smile at the appearance of a fuzzy friend – a pet.
Some 85 million families, or roughly 68 percent of all households in America, own a pet. Though these animals may present additional responsibility for the owners, they also contribute as a source of joy in an active life. For junior Greta MacNamee, her four pets put much cheer into her life.
“The sweet faces of my pets and their willingness to cuddle no matter what is so comforting,” MacNamee said. “It’s soothing to pet them.”
Through just interaction, these family friends can relax muscle tension and slow heart rates under pressuring times – something MacNamee often needs from juggling three AP courses and a few honors classes. Sometimes, whether from her heavy course load or other factors in her life, MacNamee’s emotions well up; but her pets and especially her older dog named Louie always arrive to save the day.
“The amount of times Louie’s come over and pressed his face against me while I was crying or just generally upset is amazing,” said MacNamee, about her favorite dog. “It’s like he knows what’s going on and is trying to make me feel better!”
“It’s like he knows what’s going on and is trying to make me feel better!”
Dogs, in fact, seem to consistently behave in ways that match with human empathetic behavior. These responses, like wanting to be near a sad owner to perhaps provide comfort, also correlates with the bond of an animal to their owner. Senior Kyler Froman, too, noticed pets’ sympathy in his German Shepherd, Cosette.
“Cosette generally follows my stepmom around, but when I’m feeling down or stressed she comes to my room and just kinda lies down next to me and lets me pet her or licks my face,” said Froman. “Just small things but it makes it seem like she can tell.”
Froman, like MacNamee, also takes three AP courses, amidst other challenging classes. He said that, while he may have bitten off more than he could chew with his selection of coursework, his dog and two cats helped him through the school year through their acts, “particularly from Cosette since dogs are more empathetic and cats mostly just do what they want.”
[But] I’ve always wanted cats since I was little and loved the heck out of them when we got them,” Froman adds.
Emapthy and other sympathetic behavior occur in many more animals besides canines. From an article published by U.S. National Library of Medicine on various studies, any kind of human-animal interaction increased participants’ moods and lowered their blood pressure, a response related to the hormones induced under mental and physical stress. Sophomore Samantha Doisy, who wants to be a veterinarian in the future, describes the same pattern from her two dogs and two cats.
“Whenever I’m feeling sad, Jasper’s lively energy or my cats’ purring is always able to cheer me up,” Doisy said.
Doisy takes one AP course in addition to several other demanding honors classes. But moreover, her pets help her not only psychologically and emotionally, but physically, too. Whenever she studies for extended periods of time, Doisy finds herself needing a refreshing pause on the mentally intensive activities and does so with her pets.
“Whenever I need a break from studying, I like to snuggle with my cats and/or Jasper on my bed or the couch – Luna is too big for that – while I read or watch TV,” Doisy said.
According to the American Heart Association, pets help owners become more active every day, which aids their health in the long run. Activities like running and walking a dog, or playing with a cat, all correlate to a healthier student by lowering their blood pressure, reducing anxiety and decreasing the risk of heart disease. For MacNamee, even the smaller tasks bear pleasant benefits.
“I know even 30 seconds of petting either of [my pets] will slow me down and allow me to appreciate the non-academic aspects of life,” MacNamee said.
In the end, students’ pets stick with their owners through thick and thin. With the impending doom of finals week, teens like MacNamee can all look to their pets for physical, mental and emotional comfort – and know that they will make it out just fine.
“[Even] if you feel like the world hates you,” MacNamee said. “I can promise your pets won’t.”
How do your pets affect your mental health? Let us know in the comments below!