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How My Pet Hamster Helps Me Manage My Stress Amid COVID-19

My Tiny Pet Hamster Taught Me the Biggest Lesson About Managing My Stress

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Standing outside of the room, I held my breath. I wanted to skip this entire routine today. It felt too overwhelming. My face tensed like my 7-year-old's before he says, "No, Mom," but I couldn't say no. I'd have to figure out how to put aside my worry and uneasiness or I wouldn't be able to care for our pet. Not because I wouldn't try, but because she wouldn't let me.

Our hamster can read my moods better than my husband. Perhaps this is why my family agrees she's more my hamster than all of ours. When I call her name, she comes out of her wooden house and takes food right from my hand — but not if I'm having an off day. It may sound weird, but if I show up to visit her and I'm stressed out, she'll quickly decide she'd rather be alone and scurry back into her hamster house — where I'm uninvited. It's like I've just gotten the tiniest of cold shoulders.

Beignet (yes, my son chose her name) is my first hamster. I grew up with dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, and even an ant farm, but no hamsters. While I wasn't raised on an actual farm, my family always had lots of furry companions around to love, so I was aware of just how in tune they could be with a human's emotions. Somehow, though, I wasn't ready for a little hamster who'd be there to keep all of my big moods in check.

This is why I wanted to skip our usual social time today. I'd been overloaded with all the worries that a worldwide pandemic and social isolation can bring. Topping today's worry list was the fact that my grandmother was in the hospital. Due to safety protocols, I wasn't allowed to visit. I understood these precautions were there to keep everyone safe, but it didn't change my desire to be there for her.

Feeding Time

My grandma being in the hospital took up a lot of my head and heart space. All my other concerns now occupied an oversized parking space in my stomach. I felt stuffed full. I just knew my hamster would read all of this and run back into her house to indulge in her private snack stash alone. So I again considered skipping our time together, but I knew that wasn't a good idea either. Beignet thrives on consistent social interaction and this keeps our trust intact — plus she likes her hamster treats. And I liked giving them to her. I was going to have to come up with another plan.

Pausing before our evening ritual, I thought about my day. There hadn't been a minute of downtime. I rushed from one moment to the next trying to find my balance. I peeked in to see if Beignet was scurrying about in her hamster sanctuary and she wasn't. So I thought about her cute head poking out of her tiny house and her fingers resting gently on mine while she took food from my hand, and I smiled. Shifting my thoughts away from all of the days problems (even for a minute) put me more in the present moment. I felt my stomach relax. It seems my little hamster knows a few things.

Some days, my hamster may know what I need better than I do. On my high stress days, I'm reminded again that I'm in charge of how much tension I carry. I'm always surprised to find that I leave our time together feeling lighter and ready to take on what's waiting for me. Sure, my worries find me again, but I'm happy to have a break while caring for my tiny friend. Good things come in the smallest of packages . . . even in tiny unexpected hamster sized ones.

Image Source: Tonilyn Hornung
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