What a dog taught me about anxiety

Last weekend, my husband went out of town with his parents for a funeral. Since the kiddos and I were staying home, we kept my in-laws’ dog while they were away. Their dog was a littermate of our beloved dog who passed away from cancer in 2016. I always love having a furry friend around.

Shadow is incredibly cute. As he’s gotten a bit older (he’s 13), he’s gotten a little more anxious. This was his first time staying with us at our new house. It was definitely out of his comfort zone for multiple reasons, including that we don’t have carpet anywhere in our house except the stairs and that we have two stories. Oh, yeah. And we also have little kids!

While he knows us and does well with us, we aren’t his usual people. As we learned last year when Shadow stayed with us while my father-in-law had open heart surgery, Shadow gets anxious and sometimes will pace and whine. Above all, he wants to be with us and near us at all times.

For that reason, both nights he stayed with us, I carried him upstairs, closed my bedroom door and let him sleep in my bedroom. I knew he was safe. He felt contained but not confined and that helped him. However, both nights he was here, he woke up in the middle of the night and had a bit of a panic. I could hear him pacing around the room and whining. I sat up, shone my flashlight around to find him and talked to him. As soon as he heard me, saw the light and saw me, he was able to calm down and go back to sleep. I would have thought it was a fluke, but it happened a couple of times. He just got anxious and needed reassurance.

Here’s the thing. I can’t make fun of or criticize Shadow one bit even though I knew a few facts. First, he was safe. Second, he wasn’t alone. Third, his people would come back for him. Shadow, however, didn’t know these facts. He just knew he was in a different place with different smells, sights, sounds and people and wasn’t sure he’d ever see his people again. It made him anxious. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have acted that same exact way. Many times I can know facts and still act that way.

Anxiety is tough like that. It can make you want to pace and whine in the dark even when you are safe and sound. It can leave you feeling like all is wrong with the world when it’s not such a big deal. It can leave you in a public bathroom, texting your husband asking how to get out of an event that has sent you into an anxiety spiral.

But, just like Shadow, I can be calmed by the light and a Voice. There have been times when I was struggling and suddenly felt God’s presence as a reminder that He was with me, He was in charge and I had no reason to fear. How silly I must seem to Him as I pace around and whine! Through the years, I have learned to look for His light and listen for His voice sooner than before. It is an ongoing battle. I don’t always get it right. But I am thankful to have Someone shining a light for me always through the darkness. I am thankful to have Someone who is patient with me when I wander around feeling distressed for no good reason.

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