Phoenix, my crazy calico girl, cannot stand to go more than a few hours without human interaction. Even when she’s left at home alone with her best bud, my other cat Bubba Lee Kinsey, his company is not sufficient. The minute I get home, she needs to be the center of attention, preferably with her face inches from mine.
This sounds sweet ÔÇô- and it is! -ÔÇô but the dark side of her affection is a demanding neediness that prompts her to follow me from room to room, grunting like Marge Simpson until I either pet her or give her treats. Don’t get me wrong — she also spends plenty of time sleeping with her face crammed in a smelly shoe because she’s gross, but she seemingly loses her mind at least once a day. Springing from the same fertile well as Phoenix’s neediness is the type of anxiety that prompts her to hide for hours every time she hears a loud noise; the vacuum cleaner can ruin her entire morning. She also hates strangers, slamming doors, and loud footsteps. After the Fourth of July, she was not the same for weeks.
Phoenix’s skittishness is not so severe that she’s demonstrating worrisome symptoms, such as urinating behind the television, ripping out her own fur, or vomiting excessively, so I don’t think it’s necessary to take her to the vet for a battery of tests and a hefty dose of Prozac. Instead, I’m making a conscious effort to reduce her anxiety ÔÇô- and my own. Here’s what I’ve been doing for stress relief.
One way I try to comfort Phoenix is by literally telling her she is fine. She’ll be sitting on the couch chewing on her toes, and I’ll say in the most cheerful voice I can muster, “You’re a kitty, and you’re amazing!” I’ll tell her she’s a good girl even when she decides to wake me up in the middle of the night or fall asleep on the black sweater I just washed. I’ll tell her she’s beautiful. I’ll tell her I love her. I’ll tell her the things I want to hear when I’m on the brink of a meltdown.
I know cats can’t speak English, but they are incredibly intuitive. Even if Phoenix can’t understand my words, I’m confident that she picks up on the positive energy behind them.
Because physical affection and closeness are so important to Phoenix, I try to honor these needs. If I’ve been gone all day, I’ll make some time to sit on the couch with her and hug her while she purrs. This benefits both of us: Phoenix gets to be close to me, and I get to take a moment to enjoy the full sensory experience of this tiny, furry, adorable, bewhiskered, vibrating wizard on my lap.
Phoenix also frequently demands snuggles while I’m working, which can be problematic; it’s impossible to type with a kitty on your keyboard. But if I’m just spacing out to Facebook and arbitrarily “liking” pictures of people’s babies so they won’t think I’m a jerk, I’ll close the computer or put the smartphone down and focus on Phoenix.
Phoenix is incredibly vocal and expressive; if she were a human, she would dominate every conversation with dramatized details of her trip to the grocery store, followed by a description of the cute boy who was “totally checking her out” in the parking lot and a full plot summary of the movie she watched when she got home that made her ugly-cry for hours.
Turns out a cat who never shuts up is about as delightful as a human who thinks “listening” means “waiting for her turn to speak.” When Phoenix talks to me — “MRRRRRR-owwww-owwwwww-OWWWWW,” the sound as multifaceted and complex as any human language — I politely respond, “That’s a good point; I hadn’t considered it that way.” The one thing I never do is yell back.
When I know an event is likely to trigger an anxiety attack for my little Phoenix, I’ll ensure she has a place to hide that feels and smells safe to her. Over the Fourth of July weekend, our next-door neighbors had a two-day party involving friends, extended family, and full sticks of dynamite — yes, really. Because Phoenix (and Bubba Lee Kinsey, for that matter) was terrified, I built a sheet fort beneath a chair in the spare bedroom and lined a box with some of my dirty laundry. This made her feel safe and secure in the face of what she perceived to be imminent doom. I do the same thing if friends are coming over.
Catster’s Keith Bowers recently wrote about how our own anxiety can have a detrimental effect on our cats’ well-being. As I mentioned earlier, Phoenix is an extremely sensitive, intuitive creature; she is able to sense when I’m happy or sad and respond accordingly.
I recently started grad school after a seven-year break, which is proving to be an extremely stressful transition. And I’ve always struggled with anxiety, which can lead me to invent problems when there aren’t any and freak out about them all day as though they are real. Therefore, even when life gets busy and overwhelming, I’m trying to remember to take time for myself — to go to yoga, watch a scary movie with a friend, or read a book that wasn’t assigned for a class. I’m better for it — and so are my cats.
Do you have a stressed cat? What do you do to calm her down? Let us know in the comments.
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.