This morning my wife let our dog Lucy out the door to greet me at the moment when two squirrels ran out from beneath the line of cedar trees next to our lawn. Lucy gave chase to one of the squirrels that raced toward a maple tree near the cul de sac. Then it bounced off that tree and headed toward another. Our pup was right on its tail, and I have no idea what the dog would have done had she caught the squirrel. We don’t encourage such encounters. Most of the time she’s on the leash and we make her sit when she spies a squirrel or rabbit. That happens quite a bit in our neighborhood. Frankly, it happens everywhere. Squirrels are a universal problem of distraction.
After her little squirrel chase, Lucy circled the tree making sure the critter was not coming back down. She was full of pride, it seemed, at having made the squirrel run so fast.
The ‘dog and squirrel’ dynamic has come to symbolize human distraction as well. Everyone is subject to distraction of one type or another. The song in this video is about one of the most famous distractions of all, captured in distinctively misogynistic style by a group called the O’Kaysons in the 1960s.
I’ll completely admit that like many men, the sight of an attractive woman distracts me. I still get distracted when my wife walks through the kitchen with her tan legs in white shorts, her strong arms in a sleeveless shirt and her hair flowing in its summer freedom. That’s a healthy distraction, I’d say.
Of course, distraction takes on many forms. These days social media is a huge source of distraction for many people. This morning an ad for the app Calm appeared in my Instagram feed. The ad warned that scrolling through social media feeds and platforms is not the path to serenity. Instead, it is likely such behavior leads to increased anxiety, especially in this period of political conflict and upheaval.
Those of us that run, ride and swim seek to find solace in motion. But one of the things that often happens during those activities is that our brains get stimulated in creative ways. Some use that time for problem-solving because nothing feels better than coming home with a mind relieved by a fresh insight on the circumstances or challenges at hand. We always hope for that.
Walking offers the same opportunity to move out of a distracted, stress-filled space into a mind-state where perspective can be gained. Others enjoy golf as a distraction, but some say the sport is simply a “good walk spoiled” and riding a golf cart takes away the physical benefits of that aspect of the sport. That said, our President is so lazy he even drives his golf carts on the greens.
Healthy people tend to appreciate etiquette of many varieties, because respecting others is a great sign of compatibility and collaboration. For those who run, ride and swim, it is sharing that experience of exertion that makes us feel better about the world. Sadly, the isolation caused by the pandemic has raised the sense of anxiety and confined spaces during 2020. People are eagerly finding ways to safely engage and get back out there in the world. Together.
What the world has learned through all this madness is what it’s like for people whose brains are endemically affected by anxiety. There is also a known relationship between symptoms of anxiety and conditions such as attention-deficit disorder. While these are separate conditions, they often vex people in both ways.
That’s a wicked cycle when anxiety leads to distraction and distraction leads to anxiety. The human mind goes round in circles from losing focus to feelings of fear and dread when events or obligations are forgotten or messed up. Those who experience that cycle of active rumination have to work hard to gain a steady functional state.
Picture a dog that was born into in less-than-perfect circumstances as a puppy. Perhaps they were originally anxious, then experienced abuse at the hands of some human owner. For the rest of their lives, that upbringing affects their behavior. Their fears are both instinctual and learned. It may take years to build trust in that creature.
Then along comes a twitchy little squirrel running across the path. The fight-or-flight instincts of the dog combine with the will to chase. Off goes the dog with the owner hollering to stop. But it feels so good for the dog to release that pent-up anxiety they refuse to halt until that squirrel is up that tree. Certainly we recognize the importance of teaching a dog not to race off after squirrels. That instinct puts their lives at risk if they run into traffic.
Traffic also symbolizes the threats we face during our lives. When crisis comes along, distraction is one of the first places people seek to hide. They might retreat into watching TV or worse, resort to self-medicating. Some people even pour themselves into too much exercise as an escape from stress, anxiety and its flip-side, depression.
These are all normal human reactions to abnormal circumstances. Facing life is difficult enough without getting hit by some major tragedy or obstacle. When health, financial, or work challenges impact our lives, it is the squirrel of distraction that often seems most inviting.
As a creative person I’ve always had a number of outlets for personal expression. My writing, painting and love of the outdoors is always a source of solace and perspective. The same goes for the running, riding, and swimming. Yet I’ve long recognized that there are times when even these joys must be set aside to buckle down and write out that list of problems to be solved. It pays to pay attention in the long run.
This blog and others that I write are a form of therapy for me. All my life I’ve wrestled with creative distraction, and this is one way that I wick off creative energy to get to the task at hand. My need to express thoughts is perhaps a bit compulsive. Often I make mistakes. Creative ADD is like that. So is anxiety.
I’ve been blogging almost daily since 2012, and I have helped others find their way to writing as a result. Along the way I’ve exposed my flaws and celebrated experiences. Interviewed interesting and inspiring people. Covered issues of the day. My readers are most appreciated.
I’ve also frustrated relatives and friends because I’m an immensely flawed individual. For that all one can do is ask forgiveness. The squirrels are real for me, so I chase them daily, then try to move on with life.