Anxiety Can Be a Mental Prison, But My Cats Help Me Escape It


I was going to write this sooner, but anxiety got the best of me. I’m not talking about the vaguely uncomfortable sense that something might be wrong — though that’s usually how it starts. I’m talking a few deep breaths away from full-on panic, the kind of feeling that’s like a live animal trapped in my ribcage.

The reasons for this feeling, when discernible, are often outright fabrications courtesy of my jerk brain, which gives the anxiety an air of ridiculousness but makes it no less real. Possible solutions are just as irrational. As in: I am going to throw my computer out that window in a moment. Or: I am going to walk out the door and not tell anyone I’m leaving or where I’ve gone. Or: More candy. That will help.

The other thing that always helps, without fail, is my cats — and they do so without even trying. Here are four ways my cats make me less of a nervous wreck.

They snap me out of it

I read that anxiety can feel like being trapped in the prison of your own mind, and in my experience, that is very much true. It can be hard to see the flowers or notice that the sun is shining, and it is basically impossible to engage in any kind of activity or hold a conversation with another human being.

That’s why cats are so perfect. Their demands are straightforward and require minimal mental effort — just a few pets and some scratches under the chin are all they need, and there are no strings attached. But there might be ulterior motives; as we all know, all cats want more food always.

They force me to do chores

Anxiety can be immobilizing. When I’m freaking out, I can’t focus well enough to work, and even the simplest task, like brushing my teeth or taking out the trash, can feel impossible.

But the one thing I can’t ignore is poopstink. When that litter box needs to be cleaned, it needs to be cleaned now. Same goes for vomit on the windowsill. Sometimes these simple chores are all I need to get back on a productive trajectory.

They make me put down the smartphone

We’ve all done it. We come home from work exhausted, ready to unwind for the evening — but first we’re going to check Facebook, just once. Just real quick, just to see what so-and-so and what’s-her-face are up to.

Then, 45 minutes later, the smartphone battery is dead, it’s almost dark out, and we haven’t had dinner yet. Plus, why aren’t we lounging on the beach in Florida like so-and-so, or getting huge promotions at work like what’s-her-face? Are we total suckers for living in the Midwest? What are we doing wrong?

There’s nothing like a wet, spotted nose peeking over the top of that miniature handheld computer and headbutting it onto the floor to put things in perspective and bring our attention back to where it belongs: in the moment.

They remind me I’m not alone

In my experience, the best cure for anxiety is getting out of my head. But remember when I said that anxiety turns my brain into a prison? Well, on the worst days, it might as well be freaking Alcatraz, and escaping from the Rock is no easy task; in fact, I’m pretty sure they’ve made more than one dumb action movie about it.

So when Phoenix gets up in my face and hollers MEOW MEOW MEOW until I pay attention to her, I try not to get annoyed. Instead I thank her and tell her I love her for reminding me that there is a whole big world out there waiting for me to explore, and it starts with letting her sit on my lap while she slurps the gunk out from between her toes.

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.

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