With the current Covid-19 virus affecting all of us, many of us are thinking about how we can protect ourselves and our pets from the stress that this brings into many people’s lives. But why would our (human) stress impact our pets? Let’s take a look.
What is Stress?
Stress can be a very overused word, but in today’s modern living it is something that can impact anyone, including our animals. Stress can be defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances
In reality, the emotions that cause an individual to ‘feel stressed’ can vary, but for the purpose of simplicity, we are using ‘stress’ to mean when you are feeling the emotional strain.
Why this is relevant now?
The current uncertainty regarding the Covid 19 virus is enough to make many people worry, or feel extra stress, and alas our animals will and do pick up on this (more on this below).
Often, when we feel that things are out of our immediate control, this can raise our stress levels. The current media reporting of all the negative effects of the Covid 19 virus on health, finances, routine, travel plans, all play a part.
What can cause stress?
Virtually anything can cause stress, and it is very individual. What may cause stress (or be labelled and hence felt as stress) to one individual can be very different for another. This is fine and needs no judgement. This also applies to animals, as we, as animal guardians know, what level of stress one animal can cope with can be very different to another. Recognising this is an important part of creating a happy, healthy and safe environment for us and our pets.
Common causes of stress include:
Health: Fears over your own health or the wellbeing of a relative, friend or pet are a common cause of stress. Often people feel that an illness of themselves or a loved one leaves them feeling out of control, but indeed many times there are important steps that you can take to empower yourself over many aspects of your health, and that of your pets. This doesn’t mean that unexpected things like this virus will not occur, but when we arm ourselves with the best knowledge about how to keep our immune systems, and those of our pets, as strong as possible, this can lessen the impact of such unexpected events. Unfortunately, as we now know, there are strong links between stress and health, so we have some tips below about some quick wins for handling stress.
Work stress: being able to separate work tasks from family and ‘personal’ time can be really important. Not answering the phone / social media/emails outside certain times can help, and sticking to personal boundaries regarding work time. With the virus and people working from home, this is likely to cause other stressors, so bringing some gratitude to the situation, for those of us that are able to work from home, is important. Obviously, this will also be a big change of routine for our pets, so that needs to be considered too.
Personal appearance/lack of self-worth: particularly in today’s online world, there are now a lot of comparisons being made. Whether it is weight, body shape, hair, skin, many people report that their body image can cause them stress. This is one thing that we are sure that our animals do not worry about. If we are lucky enough to share our lives with pets, they have much to teach us on this. This can also be linked to Social and Health stress. A common condition linked to this would be an eating disorder. There are many tools and approaches to help us all value our individual self-worth, they are really worth investigating. The more we, as animal guardians, feel our own self-worth, the more confident our pets feel being with us.
Financial stress: many people worry about not having enough money to live; indeed, many people do not have sufficient funds. When you are responsible for pets this can add an additional burden, as we all want to do the best we can for our pet family members. Remember that we are all doing the best we can with the resources (whether they be financial, knowledge, time) available to us. Not making ourselves feel guilty, but remaining open to improvements all the time can lessen this burden. We will be sharing more information on cost-saving ideas to help keep your dog’s healthy over the next few months.
Situations like divorce, moving house, starting a new job can obviously also cause stress. Bereavement is a very stressful event, and again, if you have lost a pet, the other pets in the family will also be affected by their loss, as well as picking up on your grief. Stress can also be:
- Acute – Short-term events which do not last long but if traumatic, can have a lasting impact on us.
- Episodic Stress – Situations that are also short-term but which we find ourselves in regularly, such as rushing to work or other recurring stressful experiences in the workplace.
- Chronic – Ongoing stresses which last into the long-term. These may include the stress of illness (yourself or a loved one, animal or human), ongoing financial stress or the friction in a relationship.
However, what is not often talked about is how short-term stress can actually be positive. Take the current Covid-19 situation. If we can concentrate our minds on what we can do, to help ourselves and others, then we can turn a potentially stressful event into a positive situation.
Tips for helping with stress
So, what are some tips for coping with the stress that the uncertainty around the Covid 19 virus is currently presenting us with? Here are just a few to start with:
🟡 Try and Focus on what is happening NOW, not in the future. If you and your two and four-legged family are currently healthy, try focusing on that. Looking into the future and past, when it comes to managing our emotions, rarely serves us. When we look at what is happening right here right now, it can be calming and help put things in perspective. When you feel anxiety rising, try asking:
– Are all my family members OK now?
– Do we have enough food for today?
– Do we have enough money for today?
It is a bit of a cliché, but the present moment is really the only real truth, anything we try and predict about the future is pure imagination. Yes, we can take inspired action in the right direction, but as we are currently seeing there are many things outside of our control.
This is where our pets can really help us – if you are allowed out for a walk with your dog, or a play with them, you will see that our pets will help bring us back into the present moment and see how easily pets can bring joy into their lives and ours.
🟡 Quieten your mind: we are not our thoughts. We are the observer of our thoughts. How many times have you found yourself having a conversation in your own head? We all do. Just like it can be exhausting being around people who talk all the time, it can be exhausting if we have constant worrying thoughts in our heads. But how can we quieten them? Some great ways of doing so include:
Do some physical exercise – ideally with your pets. Physical exercise is a great way to start feeling your body, which in turn helps you stop being caught up in your mind! This can be inside or outside.
Meditate: many people get put off by meditation, as they think it is more complicated than it is. However, mediation, either guided (there are some great free resources available on YouTube etc), focused e.g. concentrating on your breathing/body scan, or silent, is a fantastic way to reduce stress. Even 10 minutes 2 x per day will make a huge difference to you and your pets. I have been working with meditation with people and their animals for years – it’s free and the results are simply amazing, when it becomes a regular habit, So I would encourage you to start by sitting somewhere comfortable with your pets, closing your eyes, and meditating for 20 minutes or so. You will be amazed at how quickly you notice your pets relax with you, and how rewarding it is to share this experience with your pets. If you can sit in the fresh air and feel the ground with your feet whilst you do this even better! I will try and get some video footage to show how, when I sit and meditate, my animals love it. The dogs go into a deep state of relaxation, the cats all come and sit on me, and if I am out with the horses they all come and relax in my energy field.
Listen or watch something inspiring: when you catch your thoughts turning to worry, recognising it and catching it is the most important step. You can then replace those worrying thoughts with something that uplifts you e.g. reading, watching or listening to something funny or inspiring, listening to music you love, dancing, drawing, writing or talking to someone who can just listen to you, or, if you want, help refocus you into gratitude can be so helpful. If you catch yourself going into a worry or stress state, I would encourage you to check out your pets’ reactions. Then see how quickly they respond when you implement some of these calming techniques.
🟡 Thinking what is Good about this: So, some of the positives that this situation is putting us all in:
Time with loved ones: for those of us sharing our lives with 2 and 4 legged companions, this is a special gift to be able to spend more time with them. Trying to focus on this gift of extra time with them will really help.
Learning & Developing: even though many will need to be working from home, the travel time saved etc. we can use it to learn new skills, do new things. I have already done some amazing healthy cooking for my family and my parents, and any neighbours in need. I am also researching some new recipes for my pets with our amazing vet team here at Rocketo, and we will be sharing these soon.
🟡 Sleep: using the time to catch up on some early nights or reset our sleep patterns: sleep is vital to the immune system so even if not travelling to work allows an extra 20 minutes of sleep then that is great for your health, and that will knock onto your pet’s health.
🟡 New habits: with a sudden health scare such as this, and shortages in the shops, which many of us lucky people have never seen before, now is a great time to take a look at our daily routine and upgrade it. This can be difficult when we follow the same routine each day, so a forced break from that routine can be the perfect time to make some long-overdue changes! For example, many people are now wanting to focus more time on eating healthily for themselves and their pets, reviewing what is important to them as a family.
🟡 Gratitude: we all know how gratitude is uplifting, but when it is built into our daily habits it really makes such a difference. Luckily those of us that have pets have lots to be grateful for – every day we get to spend with them is such a gift. I now have some animals that are classified as ‘very old, so I never take any of them for granted. Each night I mentally review what I am grateful for (whilst gazing at my Daniel Craig picture), and our animal family are always top of the list. I do the same each morning as that gets the day off to a great start. !
🟡 Helping others – one of the best ways to avoid stress has been shown to be helping others. At times such as this, where everything is so uncertain, helping others, be it walking their dogs, getting shopping, chatting on the phone, sharing meals can make all the difference. Already many people are seeing significant loss in earnings, which when it comes so suddenly, can be very stressful. Anything, any little gesture, will make a big difference to them and you. If you have any neighbours, friends or family members that live alone please pay particular attention to them. If they have pets you can help relieve a lot of worry by discussing with them their pets feed, routine, special instructions such as medication, such that you will know what to do should they need some urgent help.
🟡 Ensure you don’t watch or listen to the news before bed: as well as some of the practices above, such as mediation and gratitude, not listening or watching anything that may raise stress levels, such as the news, within an hour of bedtime can really help to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is one of the best immune system boosters. Reading a good book, listening to calming music, writing things you are grateful for, or sitting and cuddling pets, is the perfect way to wind down your day.
🟡 Hydration: good quality water (for many of us that means investing in a good quality water filter that does not remove all the minerals) is an amazing way to keep the immune system and microbiome healthy. For your pets remember to change their water (washing the bowl thoroughly) at least twice per day, especially where many animals are drinking from the same bowl.
🟡 Sunlight & fresh air: whenever possible sit in the sun, even if it only comes out for 5 minutes. This will really boost your immune system. Fresh air is a natural air filter – in the second world war they showed that patients either treated in fresh air or given time out in fresh air had a far higher survival rate. Sunlight is key for a strong immune system and reduces the chance for viruses to survive outside. Vitamin D is a key component of the immune system and sunlight is the only way to produce and activate it.
Take the opportunity to get outside, open a window and sit by it, whenever possible and see how much your mind and body thank you for it. Every little minute really does make a difference.
Stay safe, stay grateful, stay healthy