Put a Little Light Into Your New Year

This can be a tough time of year even without all the excitement of the holiday season. Even if you prefer low-keyed holidays, it’s almost impossible to escape the hyped-up commercialism that urges us to eat or drink too much or try to do too much in too little time.  If we can afford to do all that, temptations to overindulge lurk everywhere.

Come January we must pay the price. If we indulged in pleasures we couldn’t afford, then depression or even panic may lurk in our psyches when the bills come due or we see the damning evidence leering at us in an easy-to-read number on the bathroom scale. If we couldn’t indulge for some reason and engaged in self-pity parties instead, the new year brings more of the same. Then there’s the wretched frigid weather with little relief in sight. If we have tight emotional relationships with our pets, they may pick up on our bad vibes and get edgy or blah too.

How’s THAT for a depressing lead-in!!!

But all is not lost. First, we can blame part of the post-holiday blues on bad timing. At least for those of us living in the northern latitudes who must work for a living. On the one hand, we’re among all those living beings sinking into slow-down mode thanks to thousands of years of evolution designed to ensure our ancient ancestors survival during a long cold winter. Alas for us, though, the more our bodies and nature tell us to slow down during the holiday season, the more our culture tells us to do more, faster. You don’t need to be Einstein to recognize the disconnect between these two!

Being members of the ego-centric human species, often any New Year’s plans and resolutions focus on our own wellbeing: vows to exercise more or even join a gym, spinning, yoga, or kick-boxing class and eat a pristine diet of whole foods with just enough dirt on them to ensure microbiome health or whatever.

But because it’s what I do, I must ask: What about the pets?

When I thought about those human qualities that benefit all animals, but especially those animals with behavioral problems, I came up with the list below. When I did, it occurred to me that these could function as nontraditional mantras for those seeking to put more order into their post-holiday lives. Some concepts to meditate on when you’re stuck in traffic, on your treadmill, spinning to nowhere, or doing the corpse position in yoga. Or maybe if you’re more social media-minded, you could think of them as little Tweets or Tweetettes.

Practice Species-Specific Mindfulness

There’s a difference between judging your dog or cat’s behavior based on how you’d feel in that same situation, versus knowing enough about your pet’s behavior and perception to recognize what the event means to them.  If you don’t know, care enough about them to learn.

Stop

When your animal misbehaves, stop. That will give your more complex higher brain time to come on line. This will help prevent your primitive brain from causing you to do something reactive and stupid in response to your animal’s behavior that you later regret.

Breathe

Once you bring your higher brain centers on-line, give them some oxygen and glucose to ensure they function at their best. While you might think that breathing is a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how often people inhale then forget to breathe, let alone take those deep breaths necessary for optimum brain function, when their dog or cat’s behavior tanks.

Pay Attention to Context

Now that that you’ve primed your brain for critical thinking, think about the context in which the problematic behavior occurred. The various forms of animal aggression don’t arise out of the blue any more than those legions of destructive behaviors do.  Unless you know the context, any treatment is little more than a guess.

Act, Don’t React

Human reactivity gets lots of pets and their people into trouble. Another way to think of reactivity is lack of self-control. Not a good motivator under stressful conditions. It also wastes time and leads to a lot of regrets. Fortunately, by stopping, breathing, and paying attention to context you’re far more likely to respond to the problem in a meaningful way.

Love Won’t Conquer All

I truly believe that love serves as a critical motivator when problems arise with our animals. But without the necessary commitment and willingness to work hard to help our pets, i.e. to respond to their needs mindfully, it functions like the proverbial light under the bushel. It’s not enough.

There you have it. Short and sweet for a January on track to be cold and dark and in need of a little more light. And what better light than self-reminders that enrich our relationships with our animals?

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