A New Way to Deal with Student Anxiety

Dogs on campus could help relieve student stress.

Posted May 27, 2019

Diane Dreher photo
Source: Diane Dreher photo

This month my university sent out an email asking alumni to bring our dogs to campus during finals week—“Nothing takes the edge off finals week more than time spent with dogs. Please come to campus and spend time with students while they take a break from the books.” 

When I was in college, juggling classes, course work, and part-time jobs, I would never have considered playing with dogs during finals. But these are different times. Now as over 60 percent of college students are experiencing anxiety and emotional distress, campus counseling centers are struggling to keep up with the demand (Twenge, 2000; Wolverton, 2019; See Dreher, 2019). Some colleges are coming up with innovative approaches to help troubled students.

The counseling center at Westchester University in Pennsylvania conducted an outreach program using therapy dogs to provide stress relief to students. When they began bringing Tucker, a golden retriever and certified therapy dog, to the student union at the end of the semester, students seemed to enjoy stopping by to pet and talk to him. The counseling center staff began bringing Tucker more often and set up an information table about the center. This canine outreach became so popular that they added other therapy dogs and scheduled regular canine visits during the year. Students looked forward to the dog visits, and survey research indicated that they felt a high degree of stress relief. Some students even said that the time with the dogs the best part of their day (Daltry & Mehr, 2015).

To prevent students from developing a debilitating buildup of stress, the University of British Columbia counseling center began a weekly drop-in canine therapy program, bringing 15 to 17 therapy dogs to campus for each session. Students stopped by the counseling center, spending an average of 35 minutes talking to and playing with the dogs. Survey research revealed that students who’d interacted with the therapy dogs experienced a significant reduction in stress (Binfet et al, 2018).

At Kern University in New Jersey, researchers brought therapy dogs to campus during final exam week for a stress management experiment. Students sat on the floor next to the dogs, talked to them, petted them, and played games with them using dog toys. Students randomly assigned to the experimental group had their blood pressure taken before and after interacting with the dogs. Those in the control group had their blood pressure taken before and after a 15-minute interval and then were also invited to play with the dogs. The study showed a significant difference between the experimental and control groups—students’ stress, measured by blood pressure, dropped dramatically after only a few minutes of playing with the dogs ( Jarolmen & Patel, 2018).

What about you? Does canine companionship make you feel less stressed?

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This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

References

Binfet, J.T., Passmore, H.A., Cebry, A., Struik, K., & McKay, C. (2018). Reducing university students’s stress through a drop-in canine-therapy program. Journal of Mental Health, 27, 197-204.

Daltry, R.M., & Mehr, K. E. (2015). Therapy dogs on campus: Recommendations for counseling center outreach, Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 29, 72-78.

Dreher, D. E. (2019). Why do so many college students have anxiety disorders? Psychology Today.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-personal-renaissance/201903/why-do-so-many-college-students-have-anxiety-disorders

Jarolmen, J., & Patel, G. (2018). The effects of animal-assisted activities on college students before and after a final exam. Journal of Mental Health, 13, 264-274.

Twenge, J. M. (2000). The age of anxiety? Birth cohort change in anxiety and neuroticism, 1952-1993. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 1007-1021.

Wolverton, B. (2019, February 24). The campus as counselor. The New York Times, Learning section, p. 4.