“I wish I worked more,” said no one on their deathbed ever. Yet finding a healthy work-life balance is a challenge, especially in this Digital Age when we are connected to our devices 24/7, on-call for our jobs, checking messages afterhours, on weekends and even on vacations. Working too much can lead to stress, burnout and health issues, but it can be hard to find time for things that we enjoy and that help us recharge our batteries.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to find work-life balance through our dogs — just one more reason why they are man’s (and woman’s) best friend:
1. Exercise. We all know the health benefits of exercise, from weight loss to increasing mental acuity, but it’s so easy to put it off. Dogs, on the other hand, never avoid exercise — as long as they’re healthy, they’re always up for a walk or a hike. My dog, Rio, starts wagging his tail as soon as I pick up his leash (and demands I pick it up at least twice a day). I don’t think there’s a more perfect exercise buddy than a dog.
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2. Being present. It’s so difficult to stop mentally running through to-do lists, worrying about upcoming meetings and projects, or neurotically checking one’s cell phone for pings. It sometimes strikes me when I walk through a restaurant and half of the people are either talking on the phone or have a device resting on the table in front of them. But dogs live in the present moment (“Squirrel!”). If I take a phone call on a hike, Rio is not amused — he’ll block my path until I hang up and give him a treat as a reward for tolerating my rude behavior. Giving dogs our undivided attention is not only what they deserve — it’s a way to allow ourselves to take a breath and unplug for a moment.
3. Boosting oxytocin. A study in 2015 found that gazing into a dog’s eyes produces the happiness hormone oxytocin in humans. So just looking away from your computer and locking eyes with your pooch will boost your spirits!
4. Playtime. It’s hard to feel stressed when a dog is wagging his tail, so even taking a 5-minute break from work or chores to play tug or run through a few tricks like “high-five” and rewarding him with a treat will benefit both of you.
5. Family bonding. We all want to spend more time bonding with our families — that’s the vital element in finding work-life balance. Playing in the yard or having an outing with your dog, like going to the dog park or letting her “shop” for treats at a local pet store, brings the family together with a shared activity.
6. Quiet time. Sometimes we all need a little alone time. Since dogs don’t talk, we can take some “me time” to cuddle together on the couch to listen to music or read a book, or take a moonlight stroll through the neighborhood in silent companionship. Our pups don’t need conversation, just the occasional loving scratch behind the ears.
7. Play dates. Everyone is so busy that it can be necessary to proactively schedule social activities with friends. Doggie play dates are a fun excuse to get together, whether hiking to a lake where the dogs can swim or heading to a backyard barbecue or a dog-friendly bar for a “yappy hour.” Downtime is so much more fun with dogs!
8. Laughter. Is there any better stress reliever than a good laugh? I have the good fortune to work at home, so I’ll be typing away at my laptop when I hear a snort from the dog bed. I’ll glance up and Rio will be upside down making a funny face at me, which never fails to make me laugh (and walk over to rub his belly). Dogs are natural comedians, so they bring laughter to our lives.
9. Office mates. More and more businesses are beginning to recognize the benefits of pets in the workplace, such as reduced employee stress and triggering colleague interactions, and are allowing dogs in the office. (Zuke’s has been pet-friendly since the doors opened in 1995. It’s super fun to walk into the office and be greeted by so many happy dogs!) So working in a dog-friendly office with your pooch is another terrific way to create work-life balance.