Post-Election Stress and Therapy Dogs

In the wake of the controversial and contentious 2016 Presidential election, many have found themselves dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression in the aftermath. In fact, many recent articles have been devoted to how those who are not coping well with the results can practice self-care in a world of the 24-hour news cycle. 
In addition to the think pieces and advice being given to American citizens feeling uneasy, it seems some have been calling on therapy dogs to relieve stress and lift spirits. On Wednesday, November 8, therapy dogs were offered to workers on Capitol Hill who were feeling the emotional impact of the Election Day results. According to RollCall.com, one intern who petted the dogs stated, "I feel so much better now." 
Schools around the country, including the University of Pennsylvania and University of Kansas, reminded their students that therapy dogs were available if they needed them. Many of the schools who offered therapy dogs to students in the wake of the election provide this service year-round to help students and faculty relieve stress.
There have been countless studies that prove the positive effect that therapy dogs can have in reducing stress levels. In a study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University researchers concluded that therapy dogs significantly reduced students’ perceived stress during the week of final exams. Additional studies regarding animal assistance therapy state that interactions with therapy dogs can reduce blood pressure rates and calm fear and anxiety.
Even though dogs can provide a temporary relief of tension and anxiety, Dr. Hal Herzog, Ph.D., urges that those in major distress not use animal therapy as the only means. He is also against the notion of getting a dog in order to feel better about the election results and the political changes to come. 
"There are lots of reasons for living with a pet, but getting a dog because you have heard it will help you cope with the stress of the Trump presidency is not one of them," Herzog explains to petMD. "Some studies have found that people with pets are less lonely, anxious, and depressed, but other studies have found just the opposite. And while interacting with dogs can temporarily reduce psychological distress in some people, there is little evidence that getting a pet causes long-term improvements in mental heath and well-being."
So while patting the head of a sweet and attentive therapy dog may work for some in the moment, it's important that people know the difference between wanting and needing long-term help. 
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