Step 1: Embrace the nervous poos.
My husband and I rescued our dog when he was six months old; we were his third home. Teddy was born on a farm in Oklahoma and apparently he didn’t have an aptitude for farm life because he was promptly shipped off to a shelter in Chicago. His second owners returned him after a week, citing their own inability to care for him. By the time he came home with us, Teddy was potty trained, crate trained and knew most basic commands. We thought we were getting off easy.
In the beginning, our relationship with Teddy was a very one-sided romance; we adored him and he tolerated us. Then, about a month in, he bonded with us. Our connection came at a cost; Teddy developed terrible separation anxiety. He refused to be shut in his crate, he had panic attacks when we’d leave for work and he barked incessantly, upsetting all of our neighbors. Everyone’s anxiety levels were through the roof and for a while, we were unsure of how to proceed.
We tried calming him by swaddling him in a ThunderShirt, which worked until he chewed through it. We consulted a behaviorist, upped his daily exercise and were diligent about his training regimen. None of that worked, so we got rid of the crate and let him sleep in our bed like the pushovers we are.
For animals and people, stress and anxiety can wreak real havoc. If left unregulated, stress has the power to weaken our memories, make us sick and even kill us. Stress levels amongst Americans have been steadily rising since October, so take a deep breath and read on for some helpful tips from our animal counterparts.
Embrace the nervous poos
Anxiety commonly manifests itself through gut problems, so if you haven’t taken a solid shit post-election, you’re in good company. Science shows us that animals also hold their anxiety in their bowels?—?rats have been known to show a profound increase in defecation when they’re feeling emotional. So if your stomach starts acting up when you’re anxious, take solace in the fact that it’s not something you ate.
Don’t be afraid to run and hide
Samango monkeys living in South Africa spend most of their time hiding from ground predators. By sheltering themselves amongst the treetops, these monkeys avoid death, thereby decreasing their stress levels. Use these monkeys as your spirit guides: When you feel yourself staggering under the weight of stress and anxiety, remove yourself from the situation and seclude yourself in a dark, quiet space (samanagos would recommend a tree house, if you can find one).
Feel free to blame your childhood
For humans, the teenage years are hugely formative and a stressful adolescence can have big implications for adulthood. The same is true for rats: A study performed at Penn State indicates rats who experienced severe stress as teenagers grew up to be impulsive adults. When your family starts in on you about your loose spending habits or underemployment, remind them that you are what they made you, and also that your impulsivity makes you more adept at foraging for food.
Don’t be ashamed to medicate
Anxiety disorders affect 18% of the United States population and are highly treatable via both counseling and prescribed medication. If you’re currently taking drugs to treat an anxiety disorder, now is the time to keep taking them. There’s a precedent from the animal kingdom here, too: Stressed animals often take anti-depressants like Prozac to help with their own anxieties and depression. Laurel Braitman, historian and anthropologist of science, says that many of these drugs started out targeted to animals and were only later used for humans.
Know you’re not alone
Left-handed marmosets are attacked more than right-handed marmosets and as a result, their stress levels are higher and they see the world with a negative cognitive bias. If you feel that you’ve been targeted or are being targeted, it may be easy to isolate yourself and attempt to deal with your anxieties on your own. Resist the urge to do so?—?as dogs have shown us over and over again, there is comfort to be found in embracing your pack.