Finding Solace in Animals - Mindfulness and Mental Health of Pets

Beyond focusing on mindfulness and meditation practices, Shady Ape also works hard to bring less shame to issues surrounding mental health. Mental health is a complex subject and by no means am I an expert. However, without a hint of shame, I have experienced anxiety and depression for over 25 years of my life. I have and continue to learn more about the challenges it can present as my mindfulness practice has deepened. Is mindfulness a panacea? No. But it has proven to be the one practice I have come back to over and over to find solace and insight.

And up until recently, I was unaware that working with animals would also be an extension of my Practice and a key to my mental health.

In 2016 I was battling with a particularly bad episode of anxiety and depression that had manifested itself into a pretty serious version of a panic disorder. By the time I landed in therapy again I was experiencing physical symptoms of my mental health. Whenever I felt particularly out of control and anxiety-ridden, I would shake. Even in my therapist’s office when recounting certain experiences, I would shake. It was, to say the least, disconcerting. Never before had I experienced this sensation and I certainly did not want it to continue. It was then I began to realize the very real connections between mind and body (but that’s a whole other blog post!). As I progressed in therapy and began to find new and tried and true coping mechanisms, the shaking became less. However, it was clear I needed a bigger solution.

Enter the possibility that I may need a service dog. Yes, my panic had become that bad.

I had never been a dog person. In fact, to be honest, they intimidated me. But thanks to the urging of my therapist I began to explore the very real possibility that I needed a buddy. I began my research in earnest and decided on a German Shepherd. I read the “Monks of New Skete” books like religious texts and began the search for my puppy. In November of 2016, I found her. Etta.

Fast forward nearly three years and Etta and I are still honing our partnership. The last 11 months we’ve weathered quite a few storms together as I’ve taken a sabbatical from teaching to caretake my elderly parents. I’ve learned and continue to learn so many things about myself as I navigate dog ownership. In fact, I recently took a day job at a doggie daycare after my father suddenly passed away last month. Now, I cannot say for sure but my mental health has been able to stay pretty even keel despite being in deep grief. I attribute that to the mindfulness of dogs.

The one thing about dogs that I adore is their ever-present-ness. When I go to work my canine buddies greet me like every moment is precious. They lick my tears, nudge me forward and inevitably make me laugh. I cannot help but be present with them. They remind me to play, see joy and be aware. There is a constant reminder that this, too, shall pass. On days I do not take the time to sit I find that the presence of Etta and now my many canine friends can do nothing but pull me into the present moment.

Please understand, I am not advocating that if you are feeling anxious or depressed that you go out and adopt a dog! Taking on a dog into your family is a serious responsibility,  a lot of work and could add to your stress level. However, next time you feel down or anxious consider taking a trip to your local animal shelter. Snuggle your pet or your friend’s pets. Let the canine or feline goodness wash over you and guide you to being in the present moment. Know that even if you are feeling down, sometimes relief is a close as spending time with a furry friend.  

Author - Kristen Wolfram