For the last several months, I have written quite a few times about steps I am taking this year to take better care of myself both mentally and physically. I promised to keep up with these posts because, as I learned before even publishing my first post on the topic, most people abandon their New Year's resolutions before February. If I can create steps for myself each month, I'm more likely to stick things out until I reach my end goal.
This month I'm struggling. I don't know how to express in words how many things pick at my psyche on a daily basis and how even taking well thought out steps to improve my situation barely makes a dent. And I'm at a crossroads right now in my life that I'll possibly address in a future post, but it's making it hard to concentrate on myself and things I need to do to improve my general well-being.
If I can't think of something to change or improve in my own life, how am I going to come to this platform to write about something with words of encouragement for you to make some changes, too? I can't speak with authority or experience if I don't stand behind something I say in the first place.
This is all to say that I've been at a loss for what to do for the fifth month of my own New Year's resolution.
Then it hit me: Maybe I don't need to take a step to improve right now. Stuff is in flux for me. This happens to everyone. And when it's hard to focus on incorporating a new habit (or removing a negative one) from your life, maybe it's okay to just take a step back and assess what you've got going on.
This brings me to dogs. I realize that makes no sense and lacks any sort of segue.
Hear me out.
I grew up as a cat person. My family would occasionally have a pet dog, but they weren't as significant in our lives as cats were. At one point, we had nine cats, and the first cat that was ever 'mine' was Mittens. She lived to nearly 18 years old and unfortunately passed away just a couple of years ago.
I love cats. Cats are wonderful, but I have found that having dogs as pets impacts my life in a whole different way that I never thought would be possible.
They can be obnoxious as h*ck, yes. Between the potty training and having to be constantly alert to what they're up to and stopping them from chewing on anything and everything they can get ahold of, it's enough to drive you nuts. And you would think that would make them a hindrance to your mental well-being rather than a benefit, but it's just the opposite.
Having dogs (and even just one; my first being Freyja) gives you something to focus on outside of yourself.
When I was younger, I thought dogs were dumb. I thought they would require too much attention and too much effort and just make life harder. It turns out that their need for attention and love and effort is what helps to keep me going.
I still have a cat. I love her to pieces and wouldn't trade her for anything, but she doesn't need me like the dogs do. She doesn't care if I'm gone for a week on vacation. She only cares about food and a clean litter box. But the dogs need me. The dogs get so excited every day when I get home from work, as though they haven't seen me in years and years. The dogs never not want to play or cuddle or get pets.
So when I'm having a down day, when I'm worried about work or my future or what's going on in the world, the dogs bring me back down to earth. They're here to help me relax, or get me moving, or comfort me when I'm sad, or remind me to put my phone away and just live in the moment.
Best of all, they can make me smile and laugh even on the worst of days when nothing else can.
So, it's kind of weird advice to give but get a dog. And if you don't like dogs (what's wrong with you?) or you don't have time for dogs or you're not well-equipped at the moment to keep a dog, that's okay. Just find something outside of yourself that can turn your focus away from the bad things while also making you feel like you matter. Volunteer somewhere. Start a book club. Play a sport of some sort. Just try not to always keep your thoughts focused so inwardly.
For me, this is obviously not a 'step' toward my New Year's resolution of improving my well-being. I already had these guys well before the year started. I am just taking joy and appreciation in the things I do have. That's an important step for well-being, too.
As a final note, #adoptdontshop.