Stressed Out

How do you cope with the kind of stress that punches you in the gut?

Our female akita bloated (a condition where gas fills the stomach and cuts off blood supply, which will kill a dog without immediate treatment) and I had to rush her to the emergency vet. For me, this is about as stressful as a situation can get. Okay, if it were my child or my husband, I'd be in worse shape. But this dog is truly the love of my life. She and I fell in love with each other at first sight and we have bonded in a way that is beyond words. The thought of losing her terrifies me. On top of that, you throw in medical procedures and multiple doctors, enormous bills, and complications from the surgery, and you have stress hormones zinging around at top speed.

What do you do to counteract the heavy toll stress takes on your body and brain?

If you are a typical human, you probably choose to numb those sensations with alcohol. Prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs are another popular solution. And these may work in the short term. But for the long haul, you're either going to become addicted or need to find another way to cope.

When facing extreme stress, I believe the best coping method is extreme self-care.

1) Remember to be kind. It is terribly easy to lash out when you're under extreme stress. (Believe it or not, I discovered this fact first hand!) I wanted to scream at the doctors treating my dog. I wanted to blame somebody, including and mostly myself, for the awful situation. I did a lot of yelling and cursing (thankfully not in public, for once!) before I began to calm down. Today I was finally able to express my gratitude to our primary vet for everything she's doing to help bring our dog through this. We cried together. I felt a hell of a lot better afterwards, although we're not out of the woods yet.

2) Fight or flee. You know those stress hormones are designed to save your life by pumping you up so you can either run fast or kick ass. In most of our stressful modern-day situations, we are more likely to sit still and chew our fingernails down to the cuticles while our stomachs churn with excess acid. If at all possible, I suggest some kind of physical activity. Running is a great one, if your joints can stand it, but walking, swimming, dancing, skating, or anything aerobic will work. You will flush those stress hormones out of the body, at least temporarily, and you will feel better because you did something besides sitting and worrying.

3) Breathe. Deep breaths. This one almost sounds like a cliche, except for the fact that it works. The more stressful your situation, the more times each day you need to stop, drop what you're doing, and just breathe. Try it.

4) Let go. Sorry to have to tell you this, and believe me, I don't like it one tiny bit, but we are not in control. You don't know how much I wish this were not the case. I love control. I yearn for it. But all that grasping accomplishes nothing because in the end, I control nothing. Nothing except the way I react to the situation. I'm working on this one. Still struggling.

5) Nourish the physical body. In the midst of a crisis it's very easy to forget to eat, to stop sleeping, to neglect your basic daily needs. If you do this, pretty soon you will be sick on top of worried and stressed out. Even if you can only eat a small amount, choose nourishing whole foods. Drink plenty of water along with calming teas like chamomile. Bone broth is another great choice, full of minerals and protein but easy on the belly.

6) Forgive yourself. And others. Stress brings out the worst in all of us. Well, me especially, it seems. If you forget to employ any of the above recommendations, at least do this one. Forgive yourself for being imperfect in an imperfect world where things are out of your control and sometimes go very wrong. We are all doing our best with the knowledge we have in the moment.

If you're reading this blog, whether or not you know me personally, I'd be very grateful for your prayers for my sweet dog, Ginny.