Taking Care of Our Dogs by Taking Care of Ourselves
by Amy Henderson, LCSW
The genius of dogs is reading humans. Dogs pay keen attention to our every move. Our facial expressions, our voice tone and our body language all give our dogs constant cues and communicate a great deal to them. During times of stress for humans, dogs see and hear the tension and pressure written all over us! An essential part of caring effectively for our beloved canines is caring effectively for ourselves. During this global pandemic (and local earthquakes!), I can’t think of a more needed time to employ some healthy coping skills. Here are a few of my favorite tips for helping dogs by helping humans during this difficult time:
- Grieve. We are accustomed to speaking of grief when we lose someone to death. The truth is, grief is a natural and normal response to any kind of loss, not only death. And wherever there is change, there is also loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a far-reaching impact and has resulted in multiple losses for most of us. . . the loss of work and/or work away from home, the loss of safety, the loss of activities, the loss of income, the loss of freedom, the loss of abundant supplies, the loss of stability, the loss of structure, the loss of spending time with family and friends . . . While I could spend hours talking about healthy grieving, I will focus here on one of the first, most important aspects of grieving – acknowledge it! As grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “We must say goodbye before we can say hello.” Allow yourself the opportunity to first say goodbye by acknowledging your losses. I invite you to feel all the feelings of loss fully – anger, sadness, bewilderment, pain, confusion, fear, irritation, relief, uncertainty, resistance, despair, loneliness, helplessness . . . Because it is only through acknowleding the pain of loss that we can begin to say hello to our new normal.
- Self-Acceptance. Meet yourself right where you are. If we want to usher in adaptation and change, it is necessary to first accept ourselves. Let the “shoulds” and the “should nots” that we speak out loud and quietly (albeit repeatedly!) to ourselves be a signal to us that we have room to practice compassionate acceptance. My favorite way to teach this concept to my clients is to identify the “should” or “should not” statement that is on obsessive repeat in our minds (“I shouldn’t be so upset about this” or “Why can’t I get myself motivated? I really should be doing more.”), then agree with the “should” or “should not” statement, just for the sake of argument, and offer compassion and self-acceptance (“What if it is true that I am excessively upset about this? Can I love and accept myself even if it is true?” or “What if I am particularly unmotivated right now? Can I love and accept myself even if this is true?”). My clients’ greatest fear in offering self-acceptance is complacency – “If I just accept myself, I’ll never be motivated to do anything differently.” I first remind that self-acceptance does not mean agreement or resignation. Then, I offer this quote by Carl Rogers that is always hanging on the cork board in my office: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
- Building Positive Beliefs.
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Amy Henderson, LCSW is an EMDR Psychotherapist in the Salt Lake City area who specializes in working with adults and older adults to heal trauma, grief & loss and anxiety. For more information on Amy’s therapy practice, please visit https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists?search=amy%20henderson