Skills to Calm Down: Petting Time and Getting a Different Perspective

Dali is barking and barking at the top of the stairs.  Nonstop.  I can’t figure out why.  Normally, I offer her “petting time,” which as the phrase suggests, is when I pet her and rub her neck.  When I do that, she calms down over time.  I call up to her and “Dali, come down for petting time.”

But she doesn’t come to me and she doesn’t stop barking.  At another time, I might go to her, but I have a broken toe and don’t want to get up from the couch.  She keeps barking.  I think it is on the fourth or fifth time of me offering to console her that she comes downstairs, trots over to me on the couch and then sits next to me ready for “petting time,” whining the whole time, expressing her internal discomfort with something.

She reminds me of how I can get sometimes.  Internally upset and having a hard time calming myself down.  It is important to have people in our lives we trust and can turn to for support, but I also believe we need to be our own support.

It can take a lot of work to calm ourselves down when we are having a strong reaction to something.  It’s good to have a couple of skills to turn to at these times and it’s good to practice these skills at times other than when we are emotionally dysregulated, so we are pretty good at doing these skills.

Here is are some good questions to ask yourself when you are revved up (I got them from getselfhelp.co.uk).

Ask yourself:

  • What am I REALLY reacting to?
  • What is it that is really pushing my buttons here?
  • What is it that I think is going to happen?
  • What is the worst (and best) that could happen?
  • What is most likely to happen?
  • Am I getting things out of proportion?
  • How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?
  • What harm has been done?
  • Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?
  • Am I overestimating the danger?
  • Am I underestimating my ability to cope?
  • Am I using a negative filter? Is there another way of looking at it?
  • What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?
  • Am I spending time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future?
  • What could I do right now that would help me feel better?
  • How would someone else see this situation? What is the bigger picture?
  • What would be the consequences of responding the way I usually do?
  • Is there another way of dealing with this? What would be the most helpful and effective action to take?  (for me, for the situation, for the other person)

These are a lot of questions, probably too many to remember.  I recommend writing down about 6 questions that resonate for you and have them handy for when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.  By taking time to think through the answer to these questions, you can get a different perspective on the situation and that can help you manage your emotions more effectively.

Please let me know if you find this approach helpful or if you have some other strategies that work for you.

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Compassion

Well, I ended up taking Dali to the vet because I felt like she was walking slower than she should even with aging.  Maybe she had arthritis that could be relieved with pain medicine.  I noticed her being careful about walking up and down curbs.  I watched as she chose to walk down where there was a gentle slope to the street for wheel chairs.  The vet said Dali is experiencing some lumbar pain and we’re waiting to get blood test results to see if the discomfort is associated with some other problem.

I decided to make an appointment with the vets after a particularly slow walk. Oskar was pulling me to go faster and Dali was clearly doing the best she could.  Oskar turned around a couple of times to see what was going on with Dali.   Interestingly, after a bit, Oskar retreated from the lead and chose to walk side-by-side with Dali.  I imagine he recognized that Dali was not just being obstinate, as she can be, but picked up on her discomfort.  How astute and kind of Oskar.  And I sensed Dali took in his support.

I don’t know how much of an active choice Oskar made to give up his desire to go at his pace and instead be compassionate, but we have a choice.  Research shows our first instinct, as adults or children, is to help others, not compete with them.  Unfortunately, cultural factors get in the way of our innate desire to be compassionate.  Research also shows that when we are kind to others, we are mentally and physical healthier.

I know for myself, whenever I choose the Golden Rule, whether it is with nonhuman animals (animals) or people, I always feel better about myself.  Just this morning, my husband, Irwin, and I started to get into an argument.  I thought he was being ridiculous.  And I thought of this quote by a child that I read recently.  I can’t remember it exactly, but it is something like:  When I’m acting badly I need your compassion the most.  So I put my arm around Irwin and said I knew he was tired and had been working so hard and done so much for the family.  He hugged me back.  Compassion turned a moment of disconnect into a moment of connection.  I’d say we both felt better.

What is a time when you acting compassionately and you noticed feeling happier or good about yourself?

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

 

Life Transitions

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I never thought Dali would ever slow down, but she is.   She’s nine now and doesn’t have the energy she used to.   Some days, we can still go for a 2 hour walk in the morning and other days it’s a slow half-hour walk.  Some of it is the heat and humidity, I’m sure, but Oskar could keep going if Dali were willing.

Barring anything unforeseen, I am sure that I have many more years with Dali.  Her signs of aging impact me, though.  Dali is a willful individual and it’s like I’m being let in on her secret.  Her vulnerability and fragility are peeking through her indomitable spirit.

One day, I made the mistake of insisting that I pick her up to help her make the walk.  She struggled in my arms until I put her down.  Now, I just pretend that I don’t notice that we’re walking slowly or shorter distances.  I want to give Dali her dignity.

Oskar has to adjust, too.  He doesn’t always have his partner to run with and chase squirrels.   When I can, I take him out by himself.  Sometimes he’ll go with me and interestingly, sometimes he wants to stay back with Dali.  Even though I don’t think they would have picked each other as friends, they have developed a bond and look out for each other.

Recognizing and honoring the losses, as well as remaining flexible in the face of change, helps us all find our way together through this new phase of our lives.

What has helped you get through some of your life transitions?

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

 

Life As Haiku

Years ago, The Washington Post ran a series called Life is Short:  Autobiography as Haiku.  I don’t remember reading that section religiously, but I sure am glad I read Lynda Van Kuren’s piece.  I cut it out and have had it on my refrigerator ever since it was published on August 19, 2007.  I’m sharing it here because I think it has some good life lessons for us all and it brings a smile to my face every time I read it.  Here is the picture that is featured beside the haiku:

st/shortlife

 

And here is the poem:

I loved her with all my heart.  Little did I know that this little dog was my teacher, showing me how to negotiate life’s journey.  Shana’s lessons:

Hang out with the people you love, and get as close to them as you can.

Always be ready to play.

If someone doesn’t like you, don’t worry about it.  Lots of others do.  Spend your time with them.

Don’t spend a lot of time being sad.  Find something to do that makes you happy.

If someone upsets the one you love most, pee on their side of the bed.

Be joyous.

 

When we realize we are inter-connected, we can learn life lessons from all animals.  Maybe that is one of the most important lessons.  To keep our hearts open to other living beings. 

 

(professional website:  http://www.bethlevinecounseling.com)

Good morning kisses

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When I wake up, Dali is there to give me gentle, good-morning kisses. It’s like she’s re-establishing our connection after we’ve been apart while sleeping during the night. She reminds me of our in-born need to be securely attached. I coo at her and tell her good morning and how pretty she is. She turns over so I can rub her belly.

I treasure these moments because I know how important I am to her and I believe she knows how important she is to me.

It doesn’t matter if we were mad at each other the day before. Dali certainly has her way of letting me know she is not happy with me. And Dali can be so difficult at times; I get mad at her too. We always come back to the bond between us that trumps all else.

I’ve learned from Dali how important these kinds of rituals are in couple relationships. They help us to honor who we are to one another, particularly during our comings and goings. When I know my husband cares about me and he knows I care about him, we can get through the hardships of the day much easier and indulge more in the joys of life.

Being There

This is Dali (pronounced Dolly).  We adopted her in 2005 when she was about 7 months old. And  this is Oskar.  We adopted Oskar in 2008 when he was about 3 months old.

This is Dali (pronounced Dolly). We adopted her in 2005 when she was about 7 months old. And this is Oskar. We adopted Oskar in 2008 when he was about 3 months old.

Soon after we got Dali, we went to visit my parents. Dali made herself at home there and my parents loved her. One afternoon, my husband and I went out and left Dali with my parents. While we were gone, Dali followed my mom wherever she went. My mom went upstairs, Dali went upstairs. My mom went downstairs, Dali went downstairs. At some point, my mom couldn’t find Dali. She went all over the house, calling out for Dali, but Dali never barked. My mom remembered she had gone downstairs and put something in a walk-in closet and thought to look for Dali there. She checked the closet and sure enough, Dali was there.

Why hadn’t Dali barked to get help and let my mom know where she was?

It’s part of mammals’ and many other species’ instinctive behavior to call out for help. Dogs and people are similar that way. We need to know we will be responded to.

I believe Dali was taken from her mom and litter-mates when she was too young and ended up in a shelter, perhaps after being with a family for a short time. She, luckily, was rescued by a rescue organization and then she became a part of our family. So why would she bark, and call out for help? She hadn’t had the experience of someone responding to her needs.

I remember that something similar happened years later. Somehow, Dali got shut in the basement. This time, when I called out for her, she barked. I was thrilled because it meant that she trusted me to be there for her. Since being a part of our family, she had had enough experiences of us caring for her that she knew she was not alone in this world. She knew she could call for us and we would be there.

We all need that. We all need to know that when we are in need someone who is special to us will come for us when we call.

Simply Being There

“We see you’re hurting, Mommy.  And we care that you’re sad.  We’re here for you.”  That is the message I get when Dali and Oskar rush to lick my tears away whenever I’m crying.  Their concern is very comforting.  I do feel better receiving their caring contact.   They sense my distress even if they are in another room and before you know it, they are there by my side.

There are times when I need to remind my husband not to try to fix things for me when I’m feeling vulnerable about something.  I tell him I just need him to hold me and understand how I’m feeling.

And there are times I have to remind myself not to jump to solution-mode with other people.  It can be difficult sometimes to sit with someone and be with them in their pain.

I’m reminded of the story of the four-year old boy whose next door neighbor, an elderly gentleman, recently lost his wife.  When the young boy saw the man crying, he went over to him, climbed on his lap and sat there.   After he returned home, the little boy’s mother asked him what he had said to their neighbor.  Her son said, “Nothing.  I just helped him cry.”

It doesn’t always take language to soothe.  And in fact, sometimes words get in the way.  I’ve learned from Dali and Oskar the power of presence.  Putting my heart in to being there with someone’s experience is simple and pure and one of the best gifts I can give.

We all need support. Nervous Dogs sometimes just need to hold hands with their owners while riding in cars.