The Fourth of July in America is a time for picnics, trips to the beach and family fun. And, while we enjoy the day’s activities, we look forward to the end of the day the most—the time when the sun goes down and the party moves to wherever the fireworks are.
The traditional climax to Fourth of July festivities all over America, fireworks fill the sky with color and light—and noise. The big booms that we can feel in our chests are as exhilarating as watching the sky fill with fire—an integral part of the show. It is a fitting tribute to the concept of America, this grand experiment in democracy (though much threatened these days), to set the sky ablaze and make the earth tremble.
Unless you are a dog.
Many of my Facebook dog friends posted sad stories of their dogs trembling in fear as the neighbors set off backyard firecrackers relentlessly in the days leading up to this year’s Fourth. And the booms of the big town and city displays sent their pups cowering in corners and under beds, where sometimes even the best trained dogs couldn’t help but pee on the floor (or worse) out of fear—to their great embarrassment. The disembodied noise terrified them so much that their bodies betrayed them, making a bad situation worse.
A couple of my very savvy dog owner friends have a solution that works for them. They just pop their dogs into their ThunderShirts and the pups calm right down.
Now, as a cat lady accustomed to pets who really don’t give a shit about anything, this came as a complete surprise to me—a shirt with calming properties? My friends are smart people. How could they get hoodwinked into thinking that a dog shirt that applies gentle pressure on an animal could work? Were they going to start telling me now that they believed in voodoo and ghosts and tooth fairies, too?
But the results speak for themselves. Naked dog = anxiety-ridden bag of moosh. ThunderShirted dog = calm, in control, normal dog—even with bombs bursting in air. Or thunder storms raging. Or sirens piercing the silence of the night.
It’s kind of a miracle.
But then I got to thinking, as is my tendency, how this works in my own life and I began to realize that this is a technology that I apply in anxious moments, too.
Think about it. When our kids are scared, we hold them close and they feel better. When infants are startled by their own flailing arms and legs, we swaddle them and they feel better. If you can hold an agitated cat to your chest before it rips open the veins in your arms, it will calm down. You may need a trip to the ER, but the cat will feel better.
I sleep better under the weight of a comforter. My very heavy one stays on my bed all year round. It single-handedly warded off many impending nighttime anxiety attacks when I was teaching and susceptible to such things. Then, when I had a vein problem in my leg, my doctor suggested compression socks (which come in fashionable black now). They feel so fabulous that I wear them whenever I wear socks.
And now I know why I am such a fan of the nylon and spandex tank tops that I started buying in JC Penney several years ago. They are called Suitable Seamless Tanks and they are made to wear under suit jackets instead of a bulkier top, or under shirts and dresses that are too low-cut for, say, classroom wear. If you are thin enough or brave enough (I am neither), you can wear them alone. I first bought a couple to insure adequate coverage under certain tops that seemed to require it. But over time, I have procured a whole drawerful of them in assorted colors and now I wear them almost all the time under whatever else I’m wearing, regardless of the season.
Why is that, I wonder?
They feel good. Well it’s not even that wearing them feels good as much as it is that now not wearing them makes me feel weird, unprotected, vulnerable—like a flailing infant or a thunderstruck pet. They are not tight, but they do exert a gentle pressure that, I guess, is calming. I like it. Maybe I even need it. But until just now, I didn’t know why.
So, I guess my dog friends are on to something. Let’s face it. In these anxious times, we need all the comforting we can get. As human adults, we may be OK with fireworks and thunderstorms and even sirens. But as we sit down to the daily news and find our peace of mind strained, our anxieties stoked and our well-being threatened, it’s good to know that we can take the pressure off by putting the pressure on.