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Spreading “pawsitivity” during the holiday season

Gus 3

The holiday season can be a hectic time of year, but researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine are sharing fun ways to increase positivity and lower stress. W. Graham Carlos, MD, who is a Bicentennial Professor at IU School of Medicine, says one way to do that is to spend some time with a four-legged friend. We met him in the lobby of Eskenazi Health, where a concert was going on behind us.

“Sickness for many people, it’s darkness,” said Carlos, who also practices pulmonary and intensive care medicine at Eskenazi Health. “It’s hopelessness. It’s fear. And we’re going to combat all that with positivity, light, laughter, dogs, music and art. All those things that we describe as humanities come together in the lobby of Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis. It’s one of the most diverse, special, well-lit, positive places in the whole city. You can just sit here for an hour and take it all in and you’ll see what I’m saying.”

Gus the therapy dog with holiday outfit

Gus, one of the Eskenazi Health therapy dogs

Carlos sat in the lobby with Gus, who is one of the Eskenazi Health therapy dogs. Gus was all decked out in his Christmas attire, complete with a holiday headband and matching necklace. As they sat together, patients and other people who walked by could be seen smiling at the pair.

“We know through some literature that if you pet a dog for 20 minutes — believe it or not — your oxytocin levels (positivity hormones) actually increase in your blood and the dog’s oxytocin levels go up as well,” said Carlos. “We love seeing our therapy dogs interact with our patients, staff, students and our therapists. We’re lifting the positivity of everybody.”

Through studying hormones, Carlos learned about serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins, and the power those hormones can have on people and their outlook on life.

“I deal with a lot of really sick patients and see a lot of suffering everyday,” said Carlos. “I really wanted to know how I as a doctor can infuse positivity and lift people’s spirits through their illnesses to give them encouragement, hope and positivity, through prescribing medicines as well as through my words and actions.”

During the holiday season or any other, Carlos says it’s important to take time to reflect and be thankful.

“I love working here,” said Carlos. “We bring our therapy dogs in with us in the wards and the Intensive Care Units to give patients a break, remind them that there’s life outside of the four walls of their hospital room, get a little oxytocin boost through some petting and hand out some smiles at the same time.”

Gus with Dr. Graham Carlos and friends


The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Anna Carrera

Research Communications Manager

Anna Carrera is the research communications manager for Indiana University's Precision Health Initiative, IU School of Medicine and the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. She joined the team in June 2019 after working as a TV news rep...