My cat? Really?
In fact, this will work with any pet be it cat, dog, hamster, snake, spider or parrot.
It's well documented that pets are good for our mental health and well-being. Depending on your type of pet, they can be comforting, cuddly, entertaining, distracting, keep us physically active, but most of all, they can make us feel loved and connected, chilled out and relaxed.
All of us who have a pet know that feel-good buzz we get when pets show us affection or trust, want to be near us, or, in the case of cats, show us none of these things but we love them anyway.
So, how can this help you reduce your social anxiety?
Just being around your pet can be calming and distracting so it can help to make time to spend with your pet before you have to go anywhere that might provoke social anxiety.
Try and plan in 30 minutes with your pet before you go anywhere. Just sitting quietly having a cuddle if they're a pet that likes that, or playing with them if they prefer that. Just keep your attention focused on your pet and how good they make you feel.
If your pet enjoys being stroked, then doing that can be very soothing for both of you. Both of you will relax chill and bond together and, for you, your blood pressure will go down, and good hormones like Oxytocin will make you feel relaxed.
If your pet does things that make you laugh, that has the same effect.
But, hang on, what if you're building up to a panic attack in a busy supermarket car park and the cat is lolling on the sofa at home, how can they possibly help now?
Here's a really easy technique that can help: it's called a Swish, which sounds like it might be dance but is actually a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique.
NLP is not therapy, but its usefulness lies in looking at how we communicate with others, and also how we communicate with ourselves. So the Swish is designed to change one emotional state for another, changing from an unpleasant state (anxiety) to a pleasant state (calm).
How To Do The Swish
Step 1: Think about your pet, imagine touching them and how that feels, how you feel when they show you affection or make you laugh. Create a little picture of your pet in your mind's eye that encapsulates these feelings.
Step 2: Tap into how it feels when you get anxious in social situations. A memory just popped into your head perhaps of a certain time when you felt this anxiety. Hold that memory for a moment and, thinking of it as a video, pick a frame and make a picture in your mind's eye that encapsulates these feelings of anxiety or even rising panic.
Step 3: So, now you've got two pictures and you're going to work in your mind's eye with the unpleasant one first.
Focus your attention on it and notice:
- is the picture in colour or is it black and white?
- is the picture sharp or blurry?
- is the picture dark or bright?
- is the picture big or small? What size is it?
- where is the picture in relation to you in your mind's eye? In front, behind, above, below? Where is it?
- once you've done all this, just gently take your mind's eye focus away and move it to
the pleasant picture.
(There are no right or wrong answers to the questions, just concentrate and see what your mind wants to see).
Step 4: Repeat all the questions for the pleasant picture.
When you're done, gently let go of the pleasant picture in your mind's eye and let it float off out of sight for the moment. You know it's close by in your mind, just out of sight for now.
Step 5: Now turn your attention back to the unpleasant picture. Focus on it for a moment so you can connect to a little of the anxiety it holds for you.
Step 6: Take in a deep breath and then blow it out forcefully.
As you blow out your breath, imagine pushing away the unpleasant picture and snapping the pleasant one into its place as fast as you can.
As the unpleasant picture swishes out, see how it goes dark and small and moves so far away you can hardly see it.
As the pleasant picture of your pet swishes in, it gets brighter, sharper, bigger and the feel-good buzz gets so big you could step into it.
In fact, you can step into it and be part of that memory again. Enjoy the memory of your pet, how they make you laugh with the funny things they do, how much you value their companionship - you're not alone at all.
Step 7: Keep repeating the Swish until you feel like this inside:
It can be very helpful to practise at home first. To the point where the Swish just snaps into place when you think about it. Much easier than trying to remember all this when you're already in a panic.
The Swish is like any new skill - it always works better, the more you practise.
So, there you go, some easy ways that your cat, or your pet, can help you reduce your social anxiety.