Self-Care Lessons from my Dog
If you’ve ever spent any time on social media, you know how much people love their pets. We view and share photos and videos of our four-legged friends with enthusiasm, and the images are sure to bring us smiles of affection and enjoyment.
What is it about our animal companions that is so heart-warming? Of course, it feels good to be connected to other creatures, and the health benefits of having a pet are well-established. A number of studies have explored the ways that pets improve our cardiovascular and emotional health
Pets can also be good teachers of self-care, if we pay attention. They are naturally vulnerable and authentic - characteristics that experts like Brené Brown
associate with “whole-hearted living”. Here are a few of the self-care lessons that I’ve learned from my dog, Princess:
- Be Curious — Even if you’re in the same place with the same people, stay present and engaged. If you want to keep growing, don’t assume you know everything about anything. Allow yourself to ask questions and take in new information. Curiosity is a key ingredient of mindfulness and a critical tool for creating breakthroughs in thinking and behavior. When I take a walk with Princess, she models a vivid experience of living in the moment.
- Relax — You probably remember from science class that the automatic part of our neurological system is designed with two complementary parts — one which helps us respond to challenges and emergencies (i.e. the sympathetic system which activates the stress response) and the other which promotes rest and repair (i.e. the parasympathetic system which activates the relaxation response). To maintain optimal health, we need a balance of stimulation between the two. Our busy culture often promotes overstimulation of the stress response. Our pets are great reminders to slow down and balance things out.
- Cuddle —Dogs have obvious physical needs like food, shelter, water and exercise. They want more though. They want to be petted and cuddled. It’s not just that we help them scratch in places that they can’t easily reach. It is also apparent that they enjoy our company and our touch. Research demonstrates that cuddling helps meet important physical and emotional needs. In this age of electronic interaction, we need to make sure we’re getting some cuddle-time too!
- Ask for What you Want and Need — When our pets sidle up to us for some love and attention, who can resist? They aren’t shy about asking, and even if we can’t accommodate them at the moment, they’ll try again later. They don’t seem to worry about what we think or whether we’ll reject them. Did you ever notice how good it feels to be able to make them happy? People like to be of service. Next time you get stopped from making a request, consider this: When you don’t ask, you are denying someone an opportunity for kindness and generosity.
- Show Appreciation — The sight of our dogs bounding to meet us, tails wagging, brings us joy. It embodies a warm sense of welcome, love and belonging that never gets old to us. To our delight, it never gets old to our companions, either! We know what makes them happy — seeing us come home, scratching them in their favorite place, taking them on a walk, feeding them - because they show us. Fortunately for both of us, their expressions of appreciation help reinforce our desire to do more of what they like...which is good for us too (see #4).
What about you? What self-care lessons have you learned from your pet? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!