Saturday, October 29, 2016

Five Ways Your Pup Can Help Reduce Anxiety

We all know by now how much I simply adore our little pup, Leonard. On November 1st, he will be one years old. Besides taking him to his first annual physical at the vet today and gathering little prizes and gifts for him, I've been thinking about all the ways Lenny has helped Scott and I reduce our stress these past 9 months. (except for vet bills, we'll leave finances out of this!)

While I know there are countless ways our fuzzy friends are like superheroes when it comes to managing stress and reducing anxiety; I've included just five of the top ways they do so.


Dogs can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine (those lovely things that help us relax and calm down). Just playing with Leonard by taking him to dog beach, throwing his ball or teaching him tricks helps bring down my anxiety level. Lenny lives in the moment and often anxiety resides in the past or future so staying present to play with a pup is really helpful.


Dogs are little guards especially at night. When Scott would leave on work trips when we first got married I would dread the nights of sleeping alone. I would set up sleep-overs and buy night lights and deadbolt the door 10x but nothing has helped the way having little Lenny curled up next to me does. If I get nervous and wake from a nightmare in the middle of the night, I just reach over and hold Lenny's paw and immediately feel my nervous system calming down.


We know that the sun offers vitamin D and that vitamin D helps regulate our mood. Leonard needs multiple walks a day, therefore Scott and I get a lot of time in the sun these days. Movement, and vitamin D all are linked to reducing cortisol and anxiety levels. Thanks Lenny!


As I mentioned before dogs help you remain in the present. If someone is experiencing extreme panic, flashbacks or even PTSD just reaching out and petting a puppy can be very grounding. It reminds you of what is going on right now. Trauma informed care includes learning to use our sense (what we see, feel, touch, smell) to help us stay in the moment. Holding a little pup and hearing their heart beat against our own reminds us that we are living in the present, not the past or future.


Laughter is the best medicine. Laughter increases our oxygen (giving us relaxed muscles) and reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone). So it isn't any surprise that watching our pets and dogs' silly antics can really calm us down. Even Leonard does something really "naughty" I sometimes have to suppress my laughter so he knows I'm serious. (like last night when he ate off the stem of pumpkin #yummy?). Sometimes Lenny jumps under the bed with only his tail sticking out. Sometimes he chases his tail. Sometimes he runs at full tilt in a tight circle with his tongue hanging out and his eyes looking wild. Sometimes he growls at Halloween decorations in neighbor's yards. If you don't have a dog, watch this video and it will give you a good laugh.

What about you? How do pets help reduce your stress?

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Exam.

My heart is racing. The air I inhale feels thin. I am ramping up. Almost ready for take off.

The adrenalin rush and heart pounding reminds me of the night before track meets when I was in high school. I would always visualize my race as I would fall asleep (or not fall asleep more accurately). I would hold my breath and my chest would become tight as I thought of the agonizing 400 meter race.

This time I'm visualizing my state boards. I'm imagining something I've been working towards for 8 years. I'm anticipating my licensure exam. My four hour licensure exam.

I've been studying for three months tirelessly, endlessly, with gusto and discipline. But I am tired now. My brain has reached capacity on information and my storage is running low.

On the day of the exam I do the things I'm told to do, almost robotically.  Scott makes me a good nutrient dense breakfast. My exam is at 1:30. I fill the reminder of my time by following my list. My list makes me feel safe and grounded. And it reminds me of what really matters. #dontshityourpants

I take my puppy for a walk around the neighborhood. I do some yoga and deep breathing to calm my nerves. I have "savor time" in which I read and journal and pray and drink coffee. (only this morning my journal entry was one sentence) and I'm pretty sure my prayers were quite minimal.

Scott drives me to the test site. I gulp some juice but I am so nauseated. The testing site is what you would expect. Big and corporate. White and sterile. It's stern and stifling in the waiting room. Everyone is just in there waiting for a finger print and a picture while they sweat outwardly and swear inwardly.

They call my name too early and I request to bring my tampon into the testing room but this is not even allowed. (yes of course it's that time of the month). Nothing is allowed in that damn testing room. No hoodies, no snacks, no Advil, no water, no freaking tampon you guys.  I pour on all my Young Living Clarity Oil and walk into the room full of cubicles.  I see my best friend's top knot in cubicle 7. I can't talk to her or even look at her. I hold my breath and am put in a cubicle by a window. The joy of being by a window in a room of no color, muted lights and lack of oxygen does little to comfort me.

I use every minute of those four hours. The computer screen is fuzzy from the beginning and I strain to read the questions which feel more like reading long paragraphs with endless irrelevant detail. It's hot in here and I keep praying for more air cause I'm trying to breathe. I feel my chest tighten as I check the time and continue making my way through the 170 questions. I push the screen closer and closer to my face as the questions continue to blur in and out of focus. Soon the screen is just inches from my nose.  I consider leaving in the middle of my exam feeling that I don't have what it takes after all. A thousand scenarios flash through my mind of impending doom but I press on. I remind myself of what I've learned and this does not include theories or diagnosing or treatment plans or law and ethics.

What I've learned is this: I might feel uncertain but I will keep going. I might be confused but I will keep moving forward. I might feel inferior and inadequate but I'll show up anyway. I'm not going to let Hard stop me. I can do Hard. I will show up sweaty and sticky and smelly. This exam or this ____ (fill in the blank) will not define my worth and value. I can do this.

So as the timer logs me out and I've finished all my questions I head out to the test proctor, preparing for the worst. She has me sign some forms. Her affect is flat and I am essentially a walking vegetable. In my head I am already in the car crying with Scott. I am not here signing pointless forms awaiting the fail verdict. She silently hands me a sheet of paper. I take a quick glance out of the corner of my eye and there it is; that beautiful four letter word.


I walk out into the sun in a daze where Scott literally pounces from the car as he's been a nervous wreck for four hours. I hand him my paper. The paper that says PASS. 

I inhale the fresh crisp air. The sun tilts towards me as Scott embraces me . Stuffy and sweaty is now a distant memory. Clammy and nauseated is over. I walked right through the Hard and I came out on the other side; four hours 8 years later. #kidding #notreally 

You guys there is ANOTHER SIDE!!!!

And I'm finally on the other side!!!!

For those of you who have rallied around me for the past few years, months, weeks and days I am so grateful for you.  Your comments on my blogs and Instagram have meant so much to me. Your notes and cards and care packages in my mail box left me giddy with joy. Your text messages and your warm embrace leave me grateful. Your prayers reminded I was not alone and that you were in my corner too. Your belief and support gave me little wings to keep flying and keep going when it was the hardest. Your ability to sweat profusely outside my test site for hours has convinced me there is such a thing as "the one" and you're it. I love you.  They always say it takes a tribe to raise a child. I think it might take a tribe to raise a good therapist. So thank you. I have the best tribe. You all make me rich.