To say the past year was challenging, would be an understatement. When the pandemic struck, for many of us, the world we knew slipped away. Covid-19 disrupted our everyday way of life and resulted in many folks being unemployed. Not only did so many become physically ill due to Covid-19, but many more became mentally unwell. Being isolated and unable to attend the activities that provide us joy certainly took a toll. It has been studied and determined that mental health illness is on the rise right now. Depression and anxiety are at an all time high, compliments of the pandemic. Thankfully, many areas of the country are working hard to help their communities return to some regular activities. Of course, this means the return of dog shows and trials.
After being out of the game for a period of time in isolation, it is completely natural to feel worried or anxious about returning to the ring. For those of us who are anxious by nature, you can imagine what we might be feeling at this time. The thought of showing or competing with our dogs with a mask on can be overwhelming. It can be disheartening to think that we can not smile at a judge or feel the warmth of a hug from an old friend. Further, we likely won’t be as social as we would normally be. We shall be practicing social distancing and adhering to all government regulations in relation to the pandemic. The dog shows and trials we once knew are likely going to look different for the next period of time.
Not everyone will experiences anxiety and thankfully, many will be able to return and adjust to the new reality. However, not all of us may be so fortunate. On the best of days at a dog show, my anxiety is already kicked into high gear. My flight or fight response is operating on full capacity. I could be doing the finishing touches on one of my boys, all while trying not to sweat through my suit. I feel the tightness in my chest and the sweat trickle down the back of my neck. I can hear my heart beating as, if it were a marching band. Well throw a mask on me and you can officially say I am nervous. The feeling of being overwhelmed is not one that is welcomed by many.
Overcoming and learning to manage my anxiety in life situations and especially dog shows didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the recent pandemic really tested my ability to ground myself. I was fortunate enough to attend the dog shows here in Newfoundland back in November 2020 hosted by the Newfoundland (All Breed) Kennel Club. This was an incredible learning experience. Not only did I continue to learn and grow as a handler, but I developed an even stronger skill set to cope with the everyday anxiety of living in a pandemic.
The reality is, our anxiety does not dissolve on command. However, it does not need to control us either. I tell folks: “Sure I am anxious about the shows and competing during the pandemic. However, I am not allowing the anxiety to hold me on a tight lead.” I am not permitting it or the pandemic to steal from me what I love doing – showing my dogs. Anxiety is an emotion and I have chosen to believe that our emotions do not define us, unless we allow them to.
Learning to cope with your anxiety and the added stressors of a pandemic may not be an easy task. Yet, it is achievable. Here are some tips to help you keep yourself calm and to allow you to enjoy the shows once again:
- Visualization. Over the last few years, one tool I have used to minimize my anxiety at dog shows is actually prepping myself before the show date. I will often lie in bed prior to falling asleep and visualize myself and my dog in the ring. I see him gaiting beautifully and me walking with confidence. I visualize us being awarded first place. During my visualization, nothing or nobody else exists. I allow myself to be present in my own thoughts.
- Self-care. Prior to the dog show, it makes me feel more at ease if I am nourished and presentable. Self care is not an act we do in one day, but an ongoing process. A good breakfast on show days is always a must (as who knows when you may get a chance to snack). Further looking the part, can actually help you feel the part. I always choose my outfit prior to the show and ensure it compliments my dog. As well, of equal importance, you should ensure your outfit has ease of movement and pockets are always a bonus. I have often had friends say to me “You don’t seem anxious. You look so composed.” I think to myself “yes I have this – act like you know what you are doing and others will believe it.” As the saying goes “fake it until you make it”. As an added bonus, I have taken a liking to ensuring my face mask matches my show attire.
- Breathe. I know this one sounds like a no brainer, but believe it or not breathing is quite important. For one you need oxygen just to live. Now more than ever with wearing a mask all the time when in public, breathing seems to be a true challenge. I often will step outside of the show venue and separate myself from others and take a few deep breaths. Inhaling that fresh air is invigorating. Even upon re-entering the building, I remember I am breathing. I will go to my designated area and take a seat. I often close my eyes and just breathe. In essence some might say I am meditating. I focus on my physical body. I will literally sit down and take a deep breath in through my nose, hold it for second and then exhale as though I am deflating my body. After several deep breaths, my body goes from being rigid to relaxed.
- Preparation. This one may seem like a simple one to check off your list. However, might I suggest that not only do you need to get use to remembering your mask, but your dog needs to get use to both you and others being in masks. I would encourage you to have you inner circle wear masks around your dog and I would suggest when practicing, you train with your mask on. Remember, just as we will miss seeing others smiles, our dogs will miss hearing the clarity of our voices and our facial expressions that our mouths provide. Practice is key. If you prepare, you will surely feel more confident when the time comes to compete.
Without a doubt, times have changed. However, I would encourage you to take assurance in knowing that the shows you are attending, have likely done everything within their control to ensure the safety of all participants. This will include everything from providing masks, hand sanitizer, wiping down high touch areas and so forth. As the former President of the Newfoundland (All Breed) Kennel Club, I know we had many precautions put in place back in November 2020. We did everything from Covid-19 screening, security on the door to literally encouraging folks to exit the building once they completed showing to ensure we did not exceed our building capacity. Trust in your club. They want the shows to be a success. They want nothing more than to keep you safe while offering shows.
Finally, I will leave you with ‘My Pandemic Check List’
And last, but certainly not least, don’t forget your dog. Trust me when I say forgetting your dog is not the way to go and will definitely add to your stress level.
- Face mask (remember, its fun to be fashionable). Note: I always bring a few extra disposable ones for friends in case someone forgets and an extra for myself in case I soil my first one.
- Personal hand sanitizer (And remember wash those paws in the washroom frequently. Nothing beats warm water and soap.).
- Disinfectant wipes/spray for my own personal area
In closing, remember it is ok to feel anxious. You are not alone and don’t hesitate to reach out to talk to a close friend. We’re all in this together.