Okay, so this is sort of a riff off my last entry about self soothing. If you’ve been on my Instagram for more than a few seconds, you know I’m 1000% pro-pet for mental health support and am obsessed with my dog. (Btw, this is not a blog about Emotional Support Animals. I don’t debate on or discuss that.) We can learn a lot from animals--from their ability to somehow always be in the moment, to their forgiveness, to their unbridled joy. That’s probably a post for another time, but for today we’re going to focus on how spending time with a pet can help regulate your nervous system. TLDR; focusing on pretty much anything about your pet can help regulate your nervous system because you’re focusing on the here and now, and on something to engage your senses.
But for now let's just focus on really feeling and sensing into some basic things about animals--we’ll take dogs for argument’s sake. You might imagine their fur or coat (soft/rough/smooth/long/short), color (light/dark/spotted/striped/multi-colored), energy level (chill/hyper), and even their nose (is it warm? cold? wet? dry?). You could also call to mind the clickity clack of their paws on the tile floor, their bark when they’re ready for dinner, or the look in their eyes when they await with anticipation the chance to chase that bright yellow tennis ball.
All of this assumes that you have a pet and that if you do, you like having them and that they engender positive, warm feelings. If you don't or can't have an animal for whatever reason, that's okay! You can get very similar benefits from having pictures or videos of an animal, or even imagining them. If for some reason you haven’t pet an animal in real life (although I’d venture to guess most if not all of us have), have you ever seen one of those “Touch and Feel” baby books? Do you have a friend with a dog or cat? If so, congratulations--you can imagine and feel into the sensory benefits of having a pet.
My dog is one of the most regulating forces in my life. He's been in my family for almost 5 years, and I can't imagine my life without him. He only barks at packages being delivered and strangers walking by; he’s short and stubby (think Basset x Staffie), has red/brown fur, big brown eyes, a grey muzzle, and a long tail. One of the things I appreciate most about him is his ability to relax, which is something I struggle with. He is the definition of chill. As with so many other things in life, I find that I learn the lessons I need at a given moment from who or whatever surrounds me. He is, by far, one of my greatest teachers--my wish for you is that you find yours.