Negative Thoughts are a Barking Dog

During this pandemic, I've gotten back into running as a way to foster my physical and mental health. One of my worst fears as a runner is being chased and attacked by a dog as I run through local areas.

If you had asked me a few months ago, "How would you react if a dog was chasing you, off-leash, with no owner in sight?" I probably would have said, "I'd SCREAM and freak out and try climbing over a fence or truck or something else nearby!"

Given that guess, what happened a few weeks ago really shocked me.

I was running through a park. As I was jogging along the sidewalk, I heard a jingling sound behind me. I calmly told myself that it was probably a cyclist or another runner, that the sound was their keys, and that I should just look straight ahead and keep jogging.

My instincts eventually got the best of me, and I turned around to glance behind me.

There it was: my worst fear, a dog chasing after me. It was off-leash, with no owner in sight, headed straight toward me.

Mind you, it did not look like a friendly little lap dog… it almost looked like a coyote, like an unfriendly it-could-eat-me type of dog.

[Note: I am actually a dog-lover, just not when they are chasing me!]

What happened next was the most surprising part. Instead of screaming, freaking out, climbing a tree, etc., there was something bold inside of me that rose up. I turned to squarely face that dog, stood up straight and tall, made eye contact, pointed my finger and it, and yelled "NO! TURN AROUND AND GO BACK!"

Wouldn't you know it… the dog immediately turned around and ran in the opposite direction, away from me.

I was able to keep jogging and meet my running goal for that day.

Negative thoughts are like this. They can come from seemingly out of nowhere to chase after us. They can scare us and haunt us and leave us feeling attacked.

Sometimes we need to ignore them and keep our eyes straight ahead in focus.

Sometimes we need to mindfully observe them and allow them to pass by, just noticing them without getting rattled.

Sometimes we need to modify them so they're more accurate and helpful.

Sometimes we need to boldly stand up to them and say—in our thoughts or with our mouths--"NO! TURN AROUND AND GO BACK!"

These are mental health muscles that we can experiment with over time to see what helps each of us uniquely.

Try it out… and I hope the result surprises you, too!

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Dr. Parke is a therapist who provides therapy to high-achieving teens and college students in-person and online in California. Cities served include Fullerton, Brea, and Yorba Linda; zip codes served include 92835, 92823, and 92886. © 2023 Jackie Parke, Psy.D. All rights reserved.