Column: Dogs can help relieve election stress

Puppies are in for some serious cuddle time this week.

As people across not only the US but the entire planet learned of the surprising outcome of the presidential election early Wednesday morning, already high levels of anxiety and fear increased even more. These feelings have increased so much, in fact, that many online websites and magazines have posted lists of ways to reduce post-election anxiety.

What’s worse, conversations wreathed in hateful diction and offensive commentary have seemingly taken over all corners of the internet as people disregard the moral constraints that once at least partially guided our decisions online.

Regardless of whether you celebrate or mourn the outcome of this historic election, nationwide reactions in the past few days have been enough to drive anyone to a nervous breakdown. Social media feuds were just the beginning. Every night since the election, protesters have taken to the streets to make their disdain and fear for our country’s future known. Just one day after the election, a young Muslim student at San Diego State University was attacked by assailants using the hateful rhetoric of this campaign season as an excuse for lashing out at her.

Why have we, as one nation, one people, allowed such horrific hate to dictate our actions? We cannot go back in time and prevent one of the most hate-fueled campaign seasons from playing out the way it did, but in its aftermath, we certainly have the obligation to prevent hate from taking over.

Our humanity, it seems, is faltering in the face of an unprecedentedly hateful election.

Today, I present my own solution to this: Spend some significant time playing with your dog, or perhaps ask a neighbor to borrow theirs for an hour. Throw a tennis ball, scratch their bellies, incessantly squeal “Good Boy!” Do anything you can to pull away from whatever feelings of hate may have spurred inside of you in the past few days.

Not only do dogs provide arguably the healthiest and most natural anti-anxiety effects — let’s face it, we all need at least some of that this week — but we can also look to them for guidance on the way to behave in this testing time.

While we — neighbors, friends and sometimes even family — blame each other for the results of the election and use hateful messages to try to prove our superiority, dogs around the world have yet to halt showing the unconditional love for those around them that we all seem to have forgotten. Despite the election, dogs have not stopped wagging their tails when their humans come home, barking excitedly at the thought of a treat or walk, and jumping into people’s laps when they sense sadness.

Studies have actually proved that dogs’ reactionary senses essentially light up when presented with their human’s smell, indicating that dogs truly do view their humans as family in the same way we view them as family. But their love does not cease beyond the wall of their family. Dogs’ incredible sensitivity to human emotion through sight, smell, and sound mean they can offer their support to any person who they believe to be experiencing a negative emotion. Sometimes they recognize these emotions before or better than we do.

What would happen if we started caring for each other the way that dogs care for humans? If instead of shouting hateful words we embraced one another for the common factor of our humanity?

President Obama will leave office in just over two months, after eight years of striving for unity, peace and most of all, hope. Let’s not let him down in the face of this election. Let’s give eternality to his vision by consistently displaying the values he has taught us as one nation.

I am not saying it will be easy. I, like so many others, am scared for the unity of our country. But we cannot spend any more time blaming each other and allowing the diffusion of hate so powerfully that we have made it commonplace. Most importantly, we cannot allow our children to bear witness to the vicious rhetoric that suffocates our country today.

The pure, genuine compassion that dogs consistently show could be what saves us. If we use this unconditional love on one another instead of tearing each other down, we will have the power to prevent our wonderful country from becoming a land of hate instead of unity, and to make love the language in which we are all fluent. 

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