A Dog’s Lessons about Anxiety

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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What’s in Your Hand?

Been a while since I’ve dabbled into TED Talks, but I’m back at it. At least for today.

This particular talk came from Rick Warren, a well-known pastor but still seems very down-to-earth and mellow which makes him very approachable, especially to someone who steers clear of any preachers who full-out preach in all of its yelling, loud glory.

Anyways, back to the talk. Don’t get caught off guard by having the message come from a pastor because it can truly be applied to everyone, regardless of your, if any, religion.

It’s so easy to get into that mindlessly numbing routine. Every day looks the same. You wake up, brush your teeth, go to work or class, come home, and go to sleep. A little more in the middle, of course, but in a basic premise, this isn’t much in day-to-day life that goes beyond simply existing.

That’s what it so often feels like. We’re just getting by, surviving. We find some successes and accomplishments along the way, but for the most part, we all deep-down would like to know that everything we’re doing right now is worth it. We want to know why we’re here on this earth. We want to somehow make this daily, insignificant task list into something more.

It’s always a good reminder, but you matter. I matter. Everyone matters. We’re not just wandering around for no reason. We each have a significant contribution to make. The problem is figuring out what that is. That’s when we start trying to make patterns and connections, sometimes out of nothing (think of how often people see the face of Jesus in every object out there).

We assume that God or the universe or whatever else will wave some magic wand and give an obvious signal of where to go in life, what to do. Sometimes we do hear those urges and whispers, but chances are, they come from within. We shouldn’t expect society to spoon-feed us the answers to existential questions. We have to rely upon introspection and prayer for that.

Or we’re thrust into situations we didn’t plan on, that go against what we see as our designated purpose and throw everything for a tail spin. Rick mentions writing a book that becomes a worldwide bestseller, provoking attention he never wanted. We go through struggles and challenges that seem to only bring about pain and suffering, unnecessary stress.

I see this a lot in myself. Knowing that I am not good at decision-making and can be scatter-brained in my ideas and interests, I’ve felt like I needed to force myself down the paths of purpose that seemed right for me. If they were right for so many others and look good on paper, why wouldn’t it fit my own situation? Well, until you actually start learning more and experiencing more of that path, then you realize it’s not for you. You feel like you just wasted precious time and resources for nothing, for failure. But there was a purpose for that, too. Not an immediate one, perhaps, or one you understand right off the bat, but it is.

The bottom line is, it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about our individual selves envisioning our own separate ideas of our own success and happiness and our own accomplishments that top everyone else’s. Our egos and sense of competition get in the way of actually feeling fulfilled. We aren’t meant to be absolute rulers of our own kingdoms.

Life finds purpose from everyone else. Our interactions, our relationships, our place in society are what bring clarity. We are not leaders, but stewards simply guiding others and sometimes letting others have more control. Our lives and everything in it are temporary; we don’t have sole ownership. Establishing a worldview within ourselves that sees our position as humanity to be more than “just another species,” then we can take on appropriate responsibilities and actions that benefit yourself and everyone and everything around you.

Life is not about looking good, feeling good, and getting the goods, as consumerism and materialism tell us. Possessions do not determine your self-worth and happiness. Being good and doing good are what really matter. Giving your life to something beyond your own ego. The purpose of having influence, is to a voice speaking for those who fall quiet, that we might overlook, issues we might toss aside.

So here’s the most important question: What’s in your hand? What have you been given, and what are you going to do with that? For a lot of us, we might say things that determine our identity, occupation, and income. Talents, education, freedom, opportunities, ideas and more. And if you have influence from those things, that is a great power with an even greater responsibility.

We’re all made and are are in our own circumstances to fulfill our purposes. We have innate gifts and gifts we receive and our worldview will decide how to use those. I hope that with what is in your hand, you serve others. You use your experiences as tools for others to learn from. You expand your horizons beyond the single day of mindless activities and look deeper into what these little things, added up, can amount to for others.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

All a Fantasy

I’m a big fan of being organized, and the act of decluttering certain parts of my life feels so satisfying. Not that I’m overly sentimental and attached to too many of my belongings, I can see how others might find more difficulty in doing so.

An concept that I’ve come across when meandering through all things minimalism and decluttering (which, I certainly don’t claim myself to be minimalist, the mentality is quite intriguing) may help in your own struggles to lighten your load. Because, in all honesty, how much do we as individuals truly need? How many material objects in our possession are necessary to lead a full life?

When you’re looking at things you own or even things you want to buy, it’s important to differentiate what motivating factor is at play. Herein lies the concept of your “fantasy self.” Chances are, you have a version of yourself that you envision you might become in the future. Someone who is all of your best qualities and all the things you hope to be.

It’s fun to daydream about the future. Who knows what might happen and what direction we might take in life, and don’t we want to be prepared for that, or even encourage our current selves to become more like that fantasy self?

Well, to an extent. What goals do you have for yourself that you might associate with certain items? Maybe you want to develop a sense of style unlike what you usually wear. Maybe you think it’d be great to take up a new hobby, or decorate a house you don’t live in yet.

The thing is, giving up certain objects with goals in mind doesn’t mean to give up on those dreams. Goal-setting is a part of growing and developing as a person. But in this moment, what purpose is it serving you? If you have something for so long and it hasn’t necessarily spurred you to reinvent yourself, then what’s the point? You can always repurchase something later if you truly do need it.

I’m not trying to tell you to just throw away everything you own, but to generally live more intentionally and in the present moment. Constantly we are in the habit of looking beyond the only guaranteed time we have. We lose who we are, our authentic selves, by thinking of what could be. But how helpful is that?

Rather than picturing yourself as somebody you know deep down you aren’t, the best means of “self-improvement” or fulfilling the accomplishments that truly matter to you, is looking at your life right now. The person you are right now is the most important. The tasks and goals you can accomplish with what resources and circumstances you have are what you can use to even think of what your future holds.

And accomplishing those goals you have don’t originate in the objects they potentially represent. Cheesy, but that drive to make the most of life comes from within. You don’t need something taking up space to find that, nor should you rely upon outside sources to validate yourself.

This is where I insert a quick critique of our society, so nothing new. But our instinct to seek instant gratification limits our own abilities to motivate ourselves. We feel like we need to fill our goals and desires with buying things, and that will be the solution to everything. We expect inanimate objects to be the reasons why we complete a task or feel fulfilled. A touch of self-bribery.

Believe in who you are, right now. You’ve obviously evolved as a person, have experienced new things and learned new lessons. And for that, you should celebrate and not necessarily just move onto whatever you think will come next for you. Relish this moment.

Minimalism is about reducing the clutter in your environment so you have more room and clarity for what you truly love and treasure. It’s a not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle, but a way of viewing the world through a lens of gratitude and self-awareness. It’s about becoming more mindful of your actions and more clearly seeing how they align with your values.

We are so much more than our things. Fantasy or not, we will get exactly where we’re going, at the moment it’s supposed to. Life is probably going to take us toward a direction we least expected anyways, and that’s the beauty of it. Let’s trust in what that reality will be and leave the especially lavish fantasies in our wandering dreams.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie