If the therapy dog is stressed - what hope for the students?
Last week Metro (a London commuter paper), reported that a dog at a Cambridge college was refusing to go on walks with students as he was overworked and reacting badly to being walked by strangers.
The dog was bought in based on evidence that a walk in nature or with a dog, reduced stress for hours afterwards in students. To this end, Essex University has opened a petting zoo, Warwick has swapped revision for colouring in.
On the surface, all of these initiatives seem like excellent ideas for combatting the appalling rates of mental health problems in British universities. But little do they realise - they may be making the stress worse.
Stressful Thinking = Stressful Feelings
Dog = Calm Feelings
If we imagine this is true, then we now need the dog (or the colouring or the drink) every time we feel stressed. If we think that calm can only be created by something outside of us then we need to maintain the rituals and control the world in order to stay close to the things that we believe keep us relaxed – boy is that stressful.
The Psychological Explanation
Dog = Change in Current Thinking = Calm Feelings
Every good feeling you have ever experienced was created inside of you.
As you walk the dog, you fall out of your stressed and busy thinking and into the present moment. The present moment always comes with a nice, calm feeling and, unused to this state, we need to find a reason for feeling so surprisingly good - so we innocently attribute it to the dog.
100% of the time your change of mind is doing the work, not the nice walk.
The humble fact that we are only ever experiencing our thinking in this moment, frees us from endless circular and superstitious thinking. If you knew that all the studying, revision and time in exam halls could stay exactly the same, but in any moment, you could see the truth of how stress is being created and feel completely differently about them – that alone would change your world.
Here is the rub - the dog can't come to your exams, colouring in can't be the only work you do for your revision and moments in the petting zoo can’t be maintained in the real world.
Maybe what we should be teaching students is the solid psychological principles behind how we work, the truth that you are only ever feeling your thinking in this moment, never the circumstances or objects you attribute those feelings to.
If this was taught in schools, students could enjoy walking the dog, enjoy the change of thought and change of feeling it brings, without imagining that they can’t ever feel better without him.
They could become masters of their own psychology, and in turn more resilient to and better prepared for the ups and downs of life.
So let's give the dog a break and get the principles of Clarity on the curriculum - before the misunderstanding of dog walking as a stress buster, comes back to bite our kids on the bum.