Confession: I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. I remember going to my doctor as a little girl and having him tell me that I was a “worry wart.” Back then, anxiety wasn’t talked about as much. Over the years, I’ve found lots of ways to try to cope with it. Some ways were admittedly not good for me. I looked for ways to control my life that ultimately made my anxiety worse. I’d take on projects that I thought would be a good distraction from my mind only to have it filled with more stress. I demanded perfection of myself in hopes that I’d find peace. Although some of those things worked in the short-term, I never found what I was looking for: freedom from any sort of stress.
I know now that pursuing a perfect life is not only a worthless search, it can lead to a dangerous spiral of self-criticalness and apathy. I am now (thankfully!) at a point in my life where I can take things in stride and not let my anxiety consume me. In more recent times, I found anxiety relief in an unexpected place: getting a dog.
My husband David and I adopted Koji from a Shiba Inu rescue in Colorado in September 2016. We drove 20 hours from our home in Michigan to pick up our pup. Koji had a rough start to his life. He was rescued from a puppy mill where he could have easily spent his life being a breeding dog. Instead, he found his home with us.
I had never owned a dog before so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I’ve had kitties all my life, and I still consider myself more of a cat person than a dog person. I heard that Shibas are the cats of the dog world, so I figured “Hey! This won’t be too challenging.”
Shibas are known to be a very stubborn breed. He tests my patience every day with his hard-headed independence. But as difficult as he is at times, he has taught me many lessons about what it means to conquer anxiety.
How Koji has helped my anxiety
- With anxiety, sometimes getting out of bed in the morning is overwhelming. Since we adopted Koji, I need to get out of bed. Wake up call: Shibas aren’t actually cats. If I don’t get out of bed as soon as I wake up, my kitties might pester me, but they’re like me and will be lazy if given a choice. Koji, on the other hand, needs to go outside. He makes me feel useful.
- Koji is a simple being. His favorite toy is a ball. When I get up in my head, I think about how content he is with something as simple as a ball. And he isn’t afraid to remind me. If I’m not paying attention to him, he’ll bring me a toy and bring me back to the present moment.
- Shibas are high-energy dogs, and can’t be left alone. Even in our fenced in yard, Koji finds a way to stubbornly run away from us and stay outside. Because of this, he requires that I go outside with him. As a bonus for me, I get much-needed sunlight and exercise on a regular basis. Taking walks with my husband and my dog has made a dramatic impact on my anxiety.
- Lastly, Koji helps me to be more social. As is a popular and coveted breed, he gets a lot of comments when we go anywhere together. As a socially anxious person, he’s helped me get better at talking to strangers. When I’m with my dog, it’s hard to be a cynical person. I notice the way that people smile and point when they see him, and they ask to pet my dog. Koji has helped me to notice the good in people and the joy he brings to them. And that brings me joy too.
How have your pets helped you? Let me know in the comments!