A Dog’s Lessons about Anxiety

Literally any chance to show off my dog, you bet I’m taking it.

Olive, my sweet four-month-old puppy, has a special purpose in my life, besides being my fur child.

She also will (hopefully) provide emotional support, keeping my mood afloat when it dives and soars.

But this keeps in mind that she is also a living being with emotions. And those emotions can sometimes be as unpredictable as mine.

Since she’s obviously a newcomer to this world, there are still many things she encounters that scare her. Just to name a few, she has barked and ran away from all other dogs, including her own reflection, small children, nightmares, squirrels, any fecal remnants stuck to her fur, vacuums, and, randomly enough, riding lawn mowers.

So rather than relying upon Olive to serve as constant support, the roles are often reversed. I’m the one to discipline and also to hold when she’s unsure of her surroundings.

Which got me thinking…if my dog also experiences bouts of fear and doubt, what can that outside perspective offer me and others about our own anxiety? This is all in general terms, of course. I don’t think Olive is qualified as a psychatrist, but hey, a puppy can dream.

When you realize the different influences in Olive’s life that provoke her fight-or-flight reaction, what do we probably think? Those are nothing. How can something so simple, like seeing your own reflection in a mirror, really be that big of a deal?

Well, we could say that about most things that can end up triggering full-on panic attacks in people. For me, it can be the simplest of things that build up and take me over the edge. Eating can make me anxious. Shopping for clothes. Severe weather. Being too early or late to an event. Going to any social event at all, especially a crowded, loud one.

I could go on. Life in general can make me uneasy. But when you look at it from an outside perspective, when you’re in not in the midst of your own tension, you see just how small these fears seem. In our heads, we build up our anxieties into huge, impossible demons when they’re only just common occurrences that everyone faces. Which honestly, that either is helpful to hear, or it makes me more anxious knowing I’m turning nothing into something huge without much thought otherwise. It’s just an automatic response.

But it’s helpful to know that regardless of how isolating our anxieties can feel trapped in our heads, especially those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, we all go through that. We aren’t alone in our doubts and fears and uncertainties. They might be toward different things, but we can relate and empathize with each other in a shared struggle.

Another thing I notice with Olive is that even when she’s barking at her own reflection or a piece of something stuck to her back-end fur, she is quite quick to come into my arms and hear me reassure her.

Because, unlike us, she probably doesn’t have any positive affirmations off the top of her head to remind herself in those anxious situations. Luckily, we do. We have a conscious ability to ground ourselves, escape from what is troubling us and remember that we are safe and okay.

Also, just like Olive, we have a support system to remind us those things, too. Our loved ones and the relationships we share are some of the most valuable resources out there, especially they personally know the feelings that arise. Our friends and family should be there for us with open arms to pick us up in our dark moments and surround us with good energy we so desperately need. If you don’t think you have that support system right now, or there’s anybody in your life who is not serving that purpose for you, maybe it’s important to consider that.

Naturally, all creatures have some inkling for curiosity. We jump or look around when we hear a noise, or go into a new environment with some hesitation. It’s when our lives are controlled by those jumpy reactions and hesitation that we need to reflect on our moods. Dogs depend on us to help them cope in thunderstorms and angry vacuums, but we must take our own responsibility to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and implementing what we need in life to cope and manage anxiety.

They call it the dog’s life, one that is relaxing and simple. But we don’t have to make our own lives so complicated when they don’t have to be. Maybe we can take a lesson or two from our furry friends, know when to be in the moment, and keep on keeping on.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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