If you're a constant worrier, you're not alone. 40 million American adults live with anxiety disorders. One of those chronic worriers was Tom Baker, a Tennessean who runs a television production business. He worried so much, felt so hopeless, after a business failure and trouble with the IRS, he says, that it became dangerous. He lost 30 pounds as a result of the stress, and couldn't function as a father or husband.
Until he started to notice his dog's approach to life.
When Baker really took note of how his mixed breed rescue dog Mango looks at life, and tried to see life through his dog's eyes, he found relief from the chronic worry that had besieged him for most of his life, and a path to peace and happiness. Baker shared the experience in his new book, "One Dog's Faith: How My Dog Helped Me Trust in God and Overcome Chronic Worrying" (which is written from Mango's point of view), and gave his top tips for how to stop worrying and love life like a dog.
1. Dogs live for today
"The biggest thing I learned from Mango that started my journey towards minimizing worry was the word 'today,'" Baker says. "She lives for today. She lives for now. That's all that exists to her. If a chew toy breaks, she puts it down and finds another one. So what?"
As a human, "I hold on to yesterday," Baker says. "I hold on to last week. I hold on to what might happen tomorrow. Dogs can care less. That was the number one secret — just get out of yesterday, get out of tomorrow and enjoy today. Today is an adventure. It may have its struggles, it may have its difficulties, but it is an adventure and it is ours to enjoy. "
2. Dogs don't procrastinate
While humans allow excuses "to get in the way of about everything," Baker says, dogs don't wait for all the pieces to come together before taking action. They're not going to say, "I want to play fetch, but I've got to go answer a text first." When it's time to play, to eat, to go ... they don't let "buts" get in the way, he says.
3. Dogs stick their head out the window and find joy
When Mango gets to go in the car with the family, "it is the greatest day ever," Baker says. "The first thing she'll do is press her nose up against the window. That is her signal to say, 'Please roll down the window.' There are so many smells and there are so many blessings out there. I watch her. She wants to take it all in, and that was one of the other things that really helped me in times of worry. It's like I can be in a desperate situation and forget that there's blessings everywhere. They're all around, when we're worried, we just focus so much on the problem or the struggle and forget to stick our head out the window and just look."
If nothing else, he adds, simply watching a dog stick their head out the window, "how can you not smile?"
4. Dogs objectively collect information before making judgments
"We take one look at somebody and we think we know them," Baker says. "Dogs take a little more time, and don't prejudge. It bothers us humans to no end, but the first things that dogs will do to someone [is] to sniff. Once Mango gets four, five, six sniffs, she can tell whether she can trust that person or not."
While we may not want to go around sniffing people, we can learn from Mango and give people the benefit of the doubt while we objectively collect the information we need, Baker says. We might also do like dogs and look for the best in people. "They're looking for love," he says, "while we're looking for, 'What can you do for me?'"
5. Dogs find the blessings in the problems
We look for problems, Baker says, while dogs look for the blessings. Case in point: "Mango hates having a bath," he says. "When we pull her into the bathroom all paws are in stop-mode and she will do with all her might to not go in the bath. But when she actually gets in there she remembers that having her back scratched is about the best thing ever, so this problem becomes a blessing. You can see it, like, 'Wait a minute. I love this.' It's every time. It's a problem that turns into a blessing."
6. Dogs are always ready to move on to the next thing
"I think that dogs know they don't have a lot of time," Baker says. "I mean, they cram seven years into our one year. They hit the ground running. They just would rather enjoy than worry, and they live like today may be the last. If one thing brings the tail down, they look for the next thing that makes it wag."
If one thing brings the tail down, they look for the next thing that makes it wag.
7. Dogs are honest with their feelings
A dog's tail cannot lie, Baker says. "I mean, they don't have a lot to work with ... they can't really speak English, they don't have thumbs, but they work with what they have to show us how they feel. That tail is just their signal," whether it's wagging in joy or hanging in shame.
"If we could walk around and be absolutely honest and let our emotions show, it would release so much inside," he says. "We try to put on all these facades, and that is stressful in itself, to try and impress others with what we're not. Dogs just say, 'Here I am, take it or leave it. Pet me, please.' There's so much to learn from that, just to be honest with ourselves."
8. Dogs know the power of touch
Humans can build up a wall, Baker says, and not offer or receive touch. We should look at dogs, who "just seem to know what to do," he says. "When we're sick, when we're sad, when we're angry, they seem to know, and they use themselves as part of the healing. When somebody's feeling bad, Mango knows when to lay down next to them. She knows when to rub up against my leg, not jump up on me and that alone says, 'Calm down, it's okay. I'm here. I'm here. When you're ready to pet me, I'm here.'"
And "of course, dogs lick out of love," he adds. "That tongue is their signal to say, 'I'd give everything to you. I love you, and here it is.' That's their connection. They use what they have to love us."