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(Don't) Think Like a Guinea Pig

Updated: Jan 29

At our house, we have become proud guinea pig owners. I would have never guessed, but over the past year, Patches has truly become “one of the family.” Observing his character traits have been interesting to me. He is a very careful little guy. While he trusts us, he is rarely at ease. Even the slightest disturbance can cause him to chatter, putting him on “high alert.”

This heightened state of awareness is where he seems to be much of the time. It is almost like he is in “fight or flight” mode as a default. I guess, as a guinea pig, predators can come out of nowhere! When you are near the bottom of the food-chain, what are you supposed to do? He has to rely on instinct a lot, and instinct is what drives his actions much of the time.

Since guinea pigs do not have a highly developed frontal lobe in their brain like we do, Patches is unable to reason situations that do not involve immediate danger in our home than being out in the wild. This was demonstrated the other day when he got under our china cabinet, and did not want to come out. I heard primal screams from him at various attempts until I was able to move the china cabinet from the wall and coax him out with a stick of celery!

The same situation can happen to us. When we become agitated or anxious, our brain can go into “fight or flight” mode. The part of our brain driving our impulses directs us to flee the situation or fight whoever we think is attacking us. It does not recognize the threat isn’t a dangerous of life-threatening situation.

We can sometimes bring ourselves out of this situation (if not related to a highly traumatic event) by getting the frontal lobe of our brain to start working instead of the “fight or flight” area. Breathing and thought-stopping techniques work well much of the time for day-to-day anxiety or frustrating situations.

Self-care is another great way to reduce anxiety and agitation, so you’re not hovering right under the “fight or flight” threshold all the time (much like our guinea pig). I think the best self-care method is exercise. Going for a run helps me to reset my thoughts and clear my mind like no other activity. Just remember, we have a way to not be ruled by our instincts like our guinea pig friends!

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