Our dogs can pick up on our stress, so it’s important to be aware of how we’re feeling when we’re around them. Here’s a comprehensive look at how to relieve emotional stress in ourselves and our canine companions.
None of us is a stranger to stress. It affects many levels of our lives, and it also affects our dogs. The first of this two-part article focused on the emotional aspect of stress, and how our own stress affects our dogs. Now that you have become a little more familiar with the mechanisms of stress, we can look at how to relieve emotional stress in both ourselves and our dogs.
From stress to resilience
We know that stress is linked to our environment, lifestyle, diet, emotions, and thoughts. The opposite of stress is resilience, which is being able to respond, adapt and recover in the face of adversity, challenges and trauma. We have four domains in which we can create change and build resilience: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Domain #1: Physical
Movement and exercise
Bodies are made to move. More specifically, muscles and tendons are made to move the skeleton. Exercising and activity of any kind will release energy, help balance the body, and reduce stress. Each day, incorporate some physical activity into your routine, and your dog’s. Be sure the exercise is appropriate for your dog’s age, breed and any underlying physical conditions.
Connecting with nature
- Grounding: When we are out in nature, exposed to the sun, the earth, the sounds, and the smells, we receive a mini-reboot or upgrade to our systems. Touching the earth creates a grounding effect through the transfer of negative ions. This helps realign the body. Animals do this naturally. Let your dog roll in the dirt and rub against the trees.
- Smells: Dogs have a superior sense of smell. We know that smells are potent memory stimulators, and can be used to relieve anxiety and promote relaxation. Animal behavior studies have revealed that “olfactory foraging behavior” increases optimism. Take your dog on a slower walk and allow him to stop and sniff when he wants, to experience that calming effect.
Adequate rest, deep sleep, rejuvenation
On average, dogs sleep ten to 13 hours a day. Their sleep cycles tend to resonate with those of their humans. During sleep, the body takes time to repair itself and prepare for the next day. Many essential hormonal processes for re-balancing take place in the resting state.
For quality sleep, we need a designated resting place where we can settle in and decompress away from reminders of our busy lives. The same applies to our dogs, whether they sleep with us or elsewhere in the house. Provide your dog with several quiet places and beds where he can retreat in peace for a safe and restful sleep.
What we and our dogs take into our bodies also affects our stress levels. Adequate quantities of pure water are essential for the body to mobilize, absorb, and utilize nutrients to maintain cell vitality and proper function. Some dogs are peculiar about how and where they want to drink water. Spend some time observing your dog to see what he likes. If he prefers running water, for example, invest in a pet water fountain. Adding broth or water to your dog’s food will further increase his water intake.
Food is fuel for the body, and a healthy body supports feelings of well-being. If you had a Ferrari, you wouldn’t put just any liquid into the tank; you would use a premium fuel that helps it run at optimal capacity. The same principle applies to us and our dogs. For your dog, a species-appropriate, fresh, organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free, moisture rich, and bio-available diet is best for achieving optimum vitality. A diverse gut microbiome is also important for the positive effects it has upon behaviors and stress. If your dog has recurring or chronic digestive problems, have him checked by your veterinarian so you can get to the root of the issue and take steps to balance his microbiome.
Domain #2: Mental
Every dog breed has an innate “hardwired” personality. It’s important to look into the personality traits of your dog’s particular breed, or mix of breeds, so you can minimize stress and optimize good behavior. Some dogs need more stimulation and entertainment than others. Animals that are bored and under-stimulated become stressed, and will find destructive and deleterious ways to entertain themselves. Your dog’s need for mental stimulation is connected to his need for physical activity.
I had a client who adopted a 65 lb mixed breed dog. This was his fifth home. He was notorious for jumping fences and escaping every home he was at, and became destructive when confined. Recognizing his talent for jumping, his new person trained and entered him in canine long-jump competitions. Not only did he become a champion, but he never tried to jump a fence again!
For humans, a positive attitude and focused mindset reduce stress and are important to helping maintain the flow and effort we put into achieving our goals. Daily references to pictures and quotes that are in alignment with your intentions are great motivators – your dog will resonate with you and pick up on your upbeat mindset.
Domain #3: Emotional
This domain is especially important as it’s where most of our stress originates, and it can be detected by those around us. Emotions have energetic frequencies that are broadcast into the electromagnetic field that surrounds us, and is palpable to other people and our animals. According to studies done at the HeartMath Institute, when we are feeling renewing emotions like love, care, appreciation, and gratitude, the signal is smooth, clear and expansive. When we are experiencing depleting emotions like anger, frustration, resentment, and fear, the signal is jagged, distorted, and contracted. It is in this domain that we can learn how to navigate through our emotional landscape in a way that creates resilience and a shift in our bio-physiology.
Maintaining a level of calmness and emotional control is important for our inner well-being, and that of our dogs. Again, the animals around us pick up on our energies and will tend to incorporate them into their own emotional and physical expressions. Communication with our dogs is always heart-based, meaning they “feel” what we mean or say. As we know, dogs are beacons of love and service, and they are invested in us. They will resonate with the frequency of calm we project.
Love is a high vibration of health and wellness. Take a moment to be still and look into the eyes and heart of your dog; that soft melting feeling you experience is the breakdown of barriers, exposing the love from your own heart. Take time every day to incorporate and be mindful of this feeling of love. Imagine this feeling becoming golden rays of light that surround you, then project or send out those golden rays and wrap them around your dog. This is a powerful visualization that will manifest as energetic calming and healing frequencies.
Domain #4: Spiritual
We all have a sense of connection to something, whether it’s a higher power, our innate intuition, nature, our family, animals, or even our possessions. The connection you have with your dog comes from the heart and has its own sense of divinity. There is a feeling of gratitude and peace that comes with being connected. We can learn to recognize this feeling and bring its awareness into other aspects of our lives, for deeper and more meaningful connections.
The ability to believe in something bigger than ourselves has very powerful and comforting effects upon the mind, body, and spirit. What we believe to be true influences every aspect of our lives. Beliefs and ideas are ultimately about making a choice based upon what we think, how we feel, the interpretation of our experiences, and how we perceive them. Our beliefs not only affect us, but our dogs as well, since they can pick up on the high-frequency emotions and energies we experience around those beliefs.
As you can see, shifting from stress to resilience means looking at all areas of your life to see where you can make changes. The positive changes you make within yourself will also affect your dog, and combined with the right diet and lifestyle, along with adequate exercise and mental stimulation, will do wonders to minimize his stress, and yours.
To so many of us dog lovers in the United States, our canine companions are both our best friends…