My husband and I recently adopted our little blind dog named Micky (who is SUPER adorable, by the way). He’s a perfect match for our two year-old deaf pup Washburn. With one deaf dog and one blind dog, we now have one full dog! *ba-dum ching!*
Two dogs in a house results in the inevitable power struggle of who gets to be “Pack Leader.” And I’m not just talking about the dogs. My husband asserts himself over the dogs at every opportunity. Like walking out the door before them. Or battling through a single game of tug-of-war for 10 minutes with a 16 pound puppy because “I can’t let him win now! He’ll think I’m weak and easy to take over!”
It’s funny how much joy he finds in showing the boys dominance, so I’m affectionately nicknaming him the AlphaDog Husband. I think he’ll like the title.
Being about a year old, Micky is a wandering adventurer and doesn’t even realize that his blindness can potentially lead him to harm. Well, with our home being built in the 80s, the railing along the stairs has much larger gaps than houses are allowed to have nowadays.
…You know where I’m going with this.
Our very first day with Micky at home, he curiously stepped his little body between the rails and nearly fell to the floor below!
Thankfully the AlphaDog Husband caught Micky just in time and pulled him back to safety.
Terrified that we would have a blind AND broken legged dog by the end of the day, we covered the stairs in blankets and watched him like a hawk. The next morning, we ran to Home Depot and bought industrial green saran wrap. The type that companies use to keep giant stacks of heavy items attached to pallets during shipping.
After an hour of twisting, tying, and wrapping, our St. Patty’s day colored railings were completely blind-dog proof. And also a terrible eye-sore for everyone else who wasn’t blind.
Anxiety plagued the AlphaDog Husband and I those first few days, until we were confident of our puppy’s safety. This wasn’t the first nor the last time that we will worry about him, or anything else for that matter. We all experience worries and stresses everyday. “What am I going to make for dinner tonight? Do these shoes match this outfit? Where did I put the keys? Does Allie have her school work in her backpack?”
And some stresses are bigger than others. “When am I going to find a job? Will I ever get married? Is Joe going to survive cancer this time? Should I take care of Mom, or find a good nursing home? Is there even a good nursing home around?
Worries and stresses are a completely normal part of everyday life. They’re not pleasant, but can be very helpful to us. Without worries, we might not study for that test, make sure the oven is turned off, pay the bills, or look for a job. Stress pushes us to get the things done that we need to.
You know, like covering the railings in green saran wrap.
Challenging Unhelpful Anxieties
When stress and anxiety are no longer helpful but still present, that’s where changes in thinking may be needed. Sometimes people believe that their thoughts are automatic and they have no control over them. But in fact, with practice, we can actually have a large amount of control over our thoughts.
Changing your thinking can feel awkward, clumsy, too difficult, and pointless at first. This is totally normal and just part of the process. Your brain is used to focusing on whatever worry comes its way. Teaching your brain a new way of thinking is going to feel awkward. It’s also probably going to feel like it’s not working in the beginning. Just give it time and persistent practice. I say this in advance to let you know that it’s OK to feel frustrated and silly. Push through.
Anxiety can be caused by a number of different thought distortions. It causes us to overestimate how likely it is that something will go wrong. And we usually imagine the consequences of an action or event to be much worse than they actually are.
No reason buddy, you just remind me of Liz Lemon.
Think of a situation that causes you to look or feel like that little mouse does. It could be talking in front of a crowd… getting into a car… confronting your co-workers. Anything that causes you anxiety.
Picturing your stress, describe the worst possible outcome you can imagine of that situation.
Now describe the best possible outcome of that situation.
And finally, think about the most likely outcome of your situation.
Too often when we’re anxious our brains focus on the first possibility. Where the worst outcome is the only one we allow ourselves to see. When we do this, we easily forget that there are other possible results that can be better and more likely than the one we are thinking about.
Think again of the worst possible outcome you can imagine from the situation. Even if this scenario does come true, will it still matter one week from now? One month from now? Next year? Think of all the worries you had a year ago. Do they still matter and impact your life now?
Practice noticing your stressful thoughts. And when you notice them, ask yourself what the other possible outcomes of the situation could be. If this is difficult for you, pretend you’re observing the situation from the outside. Like a scientist or curious alien from outer-space. Being more observant and less emotional will help you come up with other possible alternatives.
The practice of recognizing and challenging anxious thoughts won’t take stress away completely. And you don’t want stress to disappear altogether anyways. Remember how helpful stress can be in the right context? What this practice will do is help you become more in control of the intensity and urgency of anxious feelings. You will become better at telling the difference between something that ACTUALLY needs to stress you out (blind dog falling ten feet to the floor below), and something that is probably not as big of a deal as it seems (What will I order if Starbucks runs out of my Caramel Brulée Latte!?)
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