Therapy dogs in workplaces: the answer to worker stress?

In our postmodern, technology-driven, socially-isolated world the incidence of stress is on the increase. As we live in this stress-rife environment is it important to note that stress is not always a bad thing. In fact there is a physiological purpose for stress, that is in the situation of perceived threat of danger to either react by fleeing or striking up the resources to defend oneself, the so-called “fight or flight” mechanism. So how is stress useful in the modern world?

How to stay relaxed in a stressful environment

If you are in what we call the productive “stress-zone” your stress motivates you to achieve more than you would if you were completely relaxed. People who say they have no stress, are generally not interested in what they’re doing at all! It is when levels of stress skyrocket that we run into a problem. At this point stress de-motivates and causes us to “freeze”, so that nothing can actually be done. It is this unhealthy level of stress that all the modern techniques attempt to target.

But some techniques are better than others. The latest zeitgeist is the so-called “therapy dog”. This really is a no brainer; who could feel stressed when looking at that positive, happy and energetic face? The evidence also backs up this seemingly obvious strategy, showing that workers are much less stressed when therapy dogs are in the office. So convincing is this evidence, that therapy dogs are becoming increasingly popular additions to many workplaces. Recently, weekly therapy dogs are visiting call centre workers in NSW ambulance triple zero centres to help relieve the stress of the abuse these workers receive. The article even quotes one worker stating that “they’re just lovely to have around and it’s a great distraction from a busy environment”. It makes sense that workers in these extremely stressful environments have access to these weekly visits, but this worker has identified one potential issue with bringing the furry friends into every workplace.

Optimum Stress Relief

The optimum stress-relief technique has two characteristics. Firstly, it must be effective in making the user tranquil and at peace, which therapy dogs certainly fulfil. The second goal pertains to the aforementioned idea that stress prevents us from being productive. Therefore, an effective treatment for stress improves productivity. A dog requires a lot of attention: feeding, petting, exercise. From the words of the worker at NSW Ambulance, therapy dogs are distracting, and don’t lend themselves to productivity.

Unfortunately, there is another reason you may not be able to have a therapy dog in your workplace. Allergies are a common ailment affecting many, and more and more allergies are starting to affect many more people, for unknown reasons. If even one person on your team has allergies, the possibility of therapy dogs is completely off limits. Therefore, more inclusive, more effective strategies are needed to relieve stress in the workplace. The gold standard is mindfulness, a calming, tranquil strategy which clears the mind and allows one to be more focused. Read more about mindfulness on smiling mind here (2).

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