How My Dog Helps Me Cope with Anxiety
I have a very cute Jack Russell Terrier / Basenji mix? At least we believe that's what he is. His name is Nico, and I rescued him in San Francisco from a fantastic place called Family Dog Rescue. (If you live in the Bay area, check them out if you're interested in rescuing a dog. Honestly, they're one of the best.) I adopted him when he was a little over three months old so I was able to train him myself and bond with him from an early age. I wanted to adopt a larger dog at first but then I held Nico in my arms, and I could see immediately that this dog fell in love with me. He fell asleep so quickly and was looking for me if my mom was holding him instead. I thought that was the cutest things for a tiny pup to do. It was love at first sight for the both of us.
It was the summer before my fourth year in college at University of California, Santa Cruz when I decided to adopt a dog. I always had a dog in my household as I was growing up so when I was in college, I didn't realize the emptiness of no dog around. I believe that contributed to the loneliness and sadness I felt. I have had Nico for about two years now. These past two years have been so much fun and filled with lots of love.
He's my little best friend.
I understand that for some people dogs are just dogs. Maybe it's because they have never owned one before or maybe they just don't find themselves as attached as I am. But my dog is one of my best friends. He is always down for anything. He is ready to nap with me. He loves to play fetch with me. He wants to go everywhere I go. He waits for me to get home from work. He's always by my side no matter what I am doing. If I am in the kitchen, he is standing by the door. If I am in the bathroom (haha), he is 'guarding' for me. If I am laying in bed, then he is napping right there next to me. If that isn't true companionship, then I don't know what is. And it is because of his companionship that helps relieve some of my anxiety symptoms such as with panic attacks or sense of loneliness.
He has taught me to be more caring and responsible.
Taking care of a dog is taking care of a life. An obvious statement I know but I have read about some reckless and negligent pet care. Nico can't tell me with words what he wants or needs. I have learned his habits and his expressions for when he wants something. I am also pretty grateful that Nico is kind of a vocal dog. He will whine and bark at me if his toy is hidden under the couch. He won't stop barking at me until I get that toy out from under there either. I make sure his feeding and walks/exercise are routined. I always make sure he has enough water. I have to keep up to date on his vaccinations. Taking care of Nico on my own, without the help from my parents like when I was younger, has helped my mind become more caring. He distracts my mind from unnecessary negative thoughts and helps me focus on the present.
He helps me calm down.
I can see in his facial expressions that he understands when I am having a panic attack. Dogs, or just animals in general, can be so in tune with our emotions. We can't forget that as human beings. Nico knows when I am having a panic attack because he reads my body language and can sense my emotional state so perfectly. I see the concern in his eyes. When I am having a panic attack, he is ready to let me hug him and just snuggle with him for comfort. His warmth honestly helps me calm down a lot because it gives me a sense of grounding. Nico becomes the perfect distraction for me.
He's happy, so I am happy.
Like most people, I can't help but smile and get excited when I see puppies or kittens. The feeling is better when I get home and see my dog super excited for me. Nico's excitement about seeing me puts me in a better mood. Seriously, how can I need to get happy when I see that silly face? (below)