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  • Writer's pictureKATE GREENWELL '25

A Deeper Dive: Stress & Therapy Dogs

In both daily activities and times of struggle, we often enter an intense state of emotional or physical strain, and the common feeling of not being able to withstand the demanding circumstances of life. This natural feeling is called stress. Whether it comes from work, school, relationships, or other circumstances, stress can have a tremendous impact on the physical and mental state of a person, further influencing both their actions and ability to cope with emotional burden. Although stress can be a positive factor, a motivator that drives someone to do a task in a timely manner, when in excess, stress can lead to negative physical and emotional obstacles.

In order to alleviate the taxing side effects that are often paired with stress such as anxiety, depression, or a loss of interest in daily activities, therapy dogs have been introduced to many programs and treatments.

With the first views of therapy dogs, as well as their positive influence on patients, emerging in 1961, the studies of Dr. Boris Levinson later proved that such animals have a direct correlation with the recovery and wellbeing of many people. For instance, the long-term companionship in which a pet gives a person has shown to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, therefore increasing social interaction and aiding a person’s comfort around others.

Mrs. Wendy Long, one of SUA’s academic counselors and part time caretaker of St. Ursula’s therapy dog, Angelo says that “some of it is pretty subtle; it's more about the presence of a therapy dog that can be a distraction for someone who is in the throes of anxiety. The dogs bring a sense of comfort and can come in and completely change the energy of the room.”

Moreover, as therapy dogs are intensively trained to be attentive to a person’s needs, they are able to bring forth social, emotional, cognitive and even physical benefits to an individual suffering mental or physical trauma. Mrs. Long explains, “Therapy animals in general can sense when someone is stressed out and anxious, and more importantly, they care.” These animals strive to bridge the gap between anxiety and inner peace through empathy, and for most, such a moment can be very relaxing and further reduce the detriments of stress.

Here at SUA, we are very lucky to have the privilege of access to animal-assisted therapy and overall wellness through our counseling department. “It is an amazing thing that we have an administration that supports the bringing in of a therapy dog,” Mrs. Long commented. “Cognitively, therapy dogs can aid with social skills and ultimately, human connection.”

In essence, while we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by side effects of stress, it is vital to remember that there are options available to soothe our inner mind and body, therefore making the external influences that cause this stress to feel less intense. Making time to balance the stress with breaks, healthy activities and positive interactions may just surprise us and bring upon that calming feeling that so often surfaces when a therapy dog walks in a room.

So all you SUA students, make sure to stop by ES or the counseling department to check in with Angelo!

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