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Sharp Health News

Back at work, without our four-legged colleagues

May 25, 2022

Person hugging pet dog

When the pandemic began, people whose jobs could be done remotely — and those whose jobs were put on hold or eliminated — suddenly found themselves spending much more time at home.

Some found working from home with roommates or family members challenging, but they made it work. Others who lived alone loved the peace and quiet of working solo. Regardless of the situation, a common silver lining remained constant for those with four-legged companions: the loving, calming presence of a pet.

An adjustment for people — and pets
These days, while some people have transitioned permanently to their work-from-home gigs, others have returned to their place of work. For many, this is a definite adjustment back into our “not-quite-the-same-as-before” but “better-than-two-years-ago” world.

“In 2020, when so much was shut down or canceled, and all of our regular pleasures like sports, concerts, eating out and so on were not available, our lives reverted to a simpler existence,” says Candy Elson, lead medical social worker with Sharp Grossmont’s Behavioral Health Services. “Pets were part of this and provided so many nurturing properties that were particularly important during the pandemic.”

According to Elson, adjusting to the newest normal means being back out in the world more, possibly being back at work, and leaving our loving companions at home. Like sending kids back to school and jumping back into pre-pandemic life, it can be an adjustment. But, Elson says, embracing that return is best for our well-being.

“I think going back to work and interacting with people more should be celebrated as returning to the new normal,” says Elson. “We can choose to embrace the good things about getting back to normal. At the same time, we still benefit from the sense of calm and the love our pets provide us when we return home.”

The health benefits of pets
Pets, Elson says, can help with anxiety and are a great way to connect with people if we are still adjusting to getting out, initiating social contact, and exercising to burn off not only calories, but also our worries.

“Pets are nature’s anxiety medicine,” says Elson. “In fact, scientific studies indicate that petting a dog releases pleasure hormones, or endorphins, and is a chemical- and substance-free way to feel good.”

If you’re a dog owner, walking around the neighborhood or going to a local dog park or beach is a great way to get that all-important exercise. And, after lots of alone time, pets provide a great way to interact with others in a low-stress, nonthreatening manner. They also offer a way to ease back into our pre-pandemic lifestyle.

It’s not them, it’s us
Anthropomorphism — the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, object or animal — can sometimes cause anxiety of leaving our pets. In other words, it might just be pet owners who feel concerned about their absence during the workday.

“Let’s face it, our cats and dogs mostly sleep when we aren’t at home,” says Elson. “Putting our own feelings on them can make us anxious, so we need to avoid that.”

She says if you want to treat yourself and your pet to compensate for your absence, give them a special snack or gift, bring a photo of them to work, and walk them before you head out in the morning.

“Remember that we’re all resilient, and we still come home to our loved ones — even those with four legs — at the end of the day,” says Elson.

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