Updated: Oct 1
This is my little Shih-Tzu, Rosie. The poor thing is prone to anxiety attacks. She quite often gets nervous, especially when she is startled by a loud noise. As you can imagine, this time of year is not easy for her. Just hearing one firework can put her into a state of anxiety that lasts all night. She shakes, she cries, she yo-yos between scratching at the door to go out and investigate and hiding behind a chair or in a wardrobe. She doesn't seem to know what to do with herself. When she gets into this state it upsets her whole system. She gets an upset tummy and can't eat, sometimes this lasts for days.
So, this week has been tricky as we were woken on Thursday night by the storm that was blowing through Devon. The rain was lashing down and the wind was blowing all sorts of things around outside. Rosie became scared. She started the usual panting, crying and shaking and ended up on the bed with me. I spent the whole night speaking in my calmest voice and trying to cuddle her to reassure her. It didn't work! I don't know what she starts imagining when she hears loud noises. She has never been through anything particularly traumatic, so it doesn't trigger a memory that I'm aware of. I don't know what she worries about. I wish she could speak so we could talk things through.
Last night was Halloween. For the first time, the dog and I are living on a busy main road, so I knew things would be a bit noisy! As she gets nervous, I put a bucket of sweets outside with a note and asked people to please help themselves and not knock at the door as it scared my dog! This worked for a while and then we ran out of sweets. So, of course, the older children and teens came round and were not happy to find no sweets available. They knocked on the door, they banged on and threw things at my windows. I must admit, it was not a pleasant experience for either of us and the banging startled me a couple of times. No wonder Rosie got scared.
The usual trembling, crying and hiding started for Rosie. I eventually turned all the lights out, hoping that may stop them knocking and banging on my doors and windows, and we both went into the office at the back of the flat and put on some calming music. Nothing worked again. My reassuring and calming tone seemed to be having the opposite effect and she just shook more and eventually climbed into the wardrobe to hide.
So, I wondered what I would suggest to one of my human clients that suffered from panic attacks. After all, this is pretty much what she goes through. It is similar to a panic attack. Her little heart beats quickly, she pants and cries and can't settle down. It's really upsetting to witness. Poor dog! So, I decided to try something different. We would both totally change the energy and shift our states into something more positive. Instead of speaking in a calm and quiet way, I made my voice as exciting as I could manage. I changed the music for something upbeat and fun and danced around the room like a crazy person! Rosie looked a bit confused but also intrigued. She ventured out of the wardrobe and started wagging her tail. I grabbed one of her toys and we spent the next ten minutes playing. All the while I'm putting on my most excited and upbeat voice as though this is the most fun ever! It worked! She was totally distracted by the music, her toys and her crazy owner dancing around that it shifted her state from anxiety into excitement (two very close feelings). We had a quick walk and she happily settled down for the night. She didn't want to sleep in her own bed, so she snuggled up with me, but that's fine. She was still a little nervous this morning and took a while to eat her breakfast, so it wasn't a complete cure, but what a difference!
I think there's a lesson for us all there. Sometimes, when that anxiety is really biting and you can't settle to anything, it's not as easy as taking a few deep breaths and meditating. In fact, many people tell me they really find it hard to meditate when the anxiety is at its worst. So, it's important to have a few other tricks up your sleeve. I encourage all my clients to make playlists of different songs. An important one is a "happy" playlist. Put all the songs on there that make you want to dance around or that remind you of happier times. Music is a great anchor and can quickly shift you into a completely different state of being.
What do you like to do for fun? Sometimes, if that anxiety is s a long-term issue, such as general anxiety, it's really important to take time out to do the things that give you a sense of fun and freedom. Often, these are physical things, such as dancing, playing sport, sailing or cycling. Even going for a lovely walk in the countryside or by the sea will help.
So, make a list right now of all the things that lift your mood and keep it handy for when you need it. I know what to do in future when Rosie gets scared. No more comforting words and soothing tones, we'll be throwing toys and dancing around the flat like a couple of crazy idiots! Whatever works, though, right?!
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