If You're Experiencing Stress Your Dog May Be Affected Too

Build your resilience to life's stresses.

Posted Jun 18, 2019

If you’re experiencing stress and are a dog owner, your dog may be affected too. According to a recent study conducted in Sweden and published in Scientific Reports (Sundman, et al, June 6, 2019), the long-term stress levels of humans who share everyday life with their dogs may impact the stress levels of their pets.

The study examined long-term stress levels, studying 56 dogs and their caregivers to examine how the stress levels in the dogs and their human partners changed over time. Researchers investigated levels of the stress hormone cortisol and the personality traits of the dogs and their caregivers via questionnaires completed by the owners. They also monitored the dogs’ physical activity levels.

agnesliinnea/Pixabay
Source: agnesliinnea/Pixabay

Mirroring of emotional states, called emotional contagion, is common among animals of the same species, including humans, who spend time together (Sundman, et al, 2019).

According to the authors of this study, this type of emotional mirroring has previously been shown to occur between species, including humans and dogs, when they experience short-term stress. The researchers note that this study is the first to point to emotional synchronicity, the mirroring of stress levels between individuals of different species, during a long-term period.

They point out that these findings suggest that the dogs’ stress levels are responding to the owners’, rather than the owners’ stress levels responding to the dogs’ stress levels. These findings suggest that if owners could reduce their own levels of stress, it would also reduce stress in their dogs.

Flourish and Thrive: 7 Tips to Help You Build Resilience to Life’s Stresses

The Mayo Clinic defines stress as a normal reaction to life’s demands (1998-2019). Stress in smaller increments can be a positive force and may motivate us toward optimal living and performance.

In contrast, multiple stressors, threats, and challenges can produce chronic stress reactions that challenge our abilities to cope (American Psychological Association, N.D.).

Finding healthy ways to manage stress and taking small steps toward changing behaviors can improve your ability to bounce back from life’s challenges with resilience (American Psychological Association, 2007). Here are seven tips to help you respond more resiliently to life’s stresses:

1. Learn to recognize your sources of stress and your personal stress alerts. (American Psychological Association, 2007). Pay attention to the situations and events that trigger your experiences of stress–work, family issues, relationships, deadlines, social situations, etc. How do you typically experience stress? For example, do you feel fatigued, isolate yourself, get irritable or angry, experience muscle tension or headaches, have difficulty sleeping, overeat? 

2. Prioritize your personal self-care. Exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet that’s healthy for you, and reduce caffeine intake. 

3. Focus your attention on the calm and beauty of the present moment. Walk regularly. As you walk around your home, neighborhood, park, or trail, invite yourself to be fully present. Notice the details of your surroundings, the trees, sounds, structures of the homes, warmth or coolness of the air as you inhale and exhale. Try not to judge your experience, just pay attention (Mayo Clinic, 1999-2019).

4. Engage in mindfulness and relaxation strategies. Help yourself wind down and boost your relaxation response. Try relaxation strategies, such as mindfulness meditation, breath awareness, guided visualizations, yoga, or body scan techniques. 

5. Take care of yourself at work. Pause for lunch, use your vacation time, set realistic deadlines, notice humorous moments, create a work-life balance that is healthy for you (Brown, 2018).

6. Reach out to others. Talk with people you trust—supportive friends, family, and colleagues—about your worries and the challenges that are bothering you. Relationships are one of the pillars of a balanced life (Seligman, 2011).

7. Consult with an expert. If you continue to feel stressed or overwhelmed, the American Psychological Association (N.D.) recommends that you consult with a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional to help you learn strategies to cope with and effectively manage the stress you are experiencing. 

Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy or medical advice from a qualified professional.

References

American Psychological Association (2007). Stress tip sheet. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2007/10/stress-tips.aspx

American Psychological Association (N.D.). How stress affects your health. Retrieved on 6/16/2019: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-facts.pdf

Brown A., (2018). 62 Stress management techniques, strategies & activities. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/stress-management-techniques-tips-burn-out/

Mayo Clinic Staff (1998-2019). Stress basics. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/basics/stress-basics/hlv-20049495

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: NY: Atria Paperback.

Sundman, A., Van Poucke, E., Holm, A.S., Faresjo, A., Jensen, P., Theodorsson, E., & Roth, L.S.,V. (2019). Long-term stress levels are synchronized in dogs and their owners. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6554395/pdf/41598_2019_Article_43851.pdf