When you find yourself in trying situations, a good relationship with your dog can make all the difference.

By Kathryn Streeter
September 29, 2020
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It has grown increasingly common to wonder whether experiencing shortness of breath is a coronavirus symptom or a reaction to the ongoing news. Indeed, the resulting worry and stress is undisputedly taking a toll, negatively impacting our mental well-being. I’ve discovered my dog is a special source of calm. The steady hum of her predictable routine and loyal affection helps me balance the drumbeat of these hard times.  

Meg Daley Olmert, author of “Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond” isn’t surprised to hear this. Dogs in our life trigger well-known chemical reactions and can bolster both emotional and physical health. Here, Olmert unpacks ways in which dogs help us weather hardship. 

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Providing Comfort

Olmert says that during this time of social distancing, our hearts have been slowly breaking: “We simply aren’t wired to withstand the constant barrage of life without the help of others.” But dogs can be our best friends, something research supports and humans have always known, she says. During these times, they can be everything we need and can’t get from each other. The social brain networks of humans and dogs are the most alike, telling us we’re kin and filling us with joy and relief at the sight, smell, touch, and sound of each other, Olmert says.

Regulating the Duck and Dive

Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Olmert says blood pressure is steadily rising. Hypertension thrives on chronic stress—the kind of stress social support previously helped relieve, she explains. The companionship of a dog is linked to reduced blood pressure and improved cardiac flexibility to respond to mental, physical, and social challenges but also recover a calmer pace afterwards. “This is the everyday ‘duck and dive’ cardiac routine our autonomic nervous system orchestrated in the good old days well before COVID,” says Olmert.

Reducing Stress and Heartache

COVID-19 is giving us a taste of life ruled by chronic stress. Olmert, who serves as Scientific Advisor for Warrior Canine Connection, says the shock of losing a loved one or fighting for your own breath can traumatize our hearts and minds. The neurochemical effects we experience from a beloved dog can provide safe and effective relief from fear and grief. 

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There are plenty of ways that owning a dog can affect your health for the better—both physically and emotionally. From helping kids learn responsibility to providing companionship for seniors, a dog really can make a great best friend.