Today, I will discuss further strategies to help you to manage your own anxiety and stress levels, to in turn help your dog with theirs.
If you struggle with intense feelings of rapidly accelerating anxiety or panic attacks, this breathing exercise can help to ground you. This can be applied as and when needed – i.e. when walking your reactive dog or going into another anxiety-provoking situation. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and push the breath out forcefully through pursed lips – as if blowing through a straw – for as long as you can. Repeat several times. An additional way of helping you to breathe if you find yourself taking shallow breaths – or even holding your breath – when anxious, is to sing your favourite song to yourself. You can do it out loud if you’re brave enough! Otherwise, sing it as a whisper under your breath – this is an excellent way to regulate your breathing.
Grounding exercises are another useful way of reduce feelings of panic and lack of safety. They are most commonly recommended to individuals who have suffered trauma, but can be used by anyone who struggles with anxiety and insecurity. Grounding exercises quite literally keep your feet on the ground when it feels as though a rug has been pulled from under them. One grounding technique is to use present-minded focus: similar to mindfulness, this involves paying attention to what is going on in the here and now. We simply cannot focus on past traumas or future worries and be in the ’here and now’ at the same time. Thus this exercise can refocus us away from these unhelpful tracks of thinking. Bring your attention to five things you can hear, taste, smell, taste and touch: if driving, you could name each make of car around you, if walking each type of tree, or if out in public places the names of each shop you can see.
Other grounding exercises focusing specifically on those feelings of emotional comfort, security and safety are to collate items that evoke these feelings for you. It can be photos on your phone of your loved ones, an image of your favourite colour, an item to hold in your hand (i.e. cuddly toy or soft blanket to wrap around you), stroking your dog or other pet, and having to hand a particular scent. Research has found that smell is particularly powerful (due to its rapid and close connections to the brain) in bringing our emotional arousal down to a calmer state. This could include your mother’s perfume, the smell of lavender or of a teabag, smelling your dog or a loved one’s worn item of clothing.
If you identify with being a ‘worrier’ – particularly when waiting for sleep – then keeping a ‘worry diary’ on your phone or pad and pen beside your bed can help you to park or pause those worries for a time the next day when you can better address them.
Written by Emily Bright – Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, freelance writer and trainer at BRIGHT DOG TRAINING. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, Search Bright Dog Training on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram, or visit www.brightdogtraininguk.com