How Anxiety Spreads

Mornings With Minjay Michelle Chahine Sinno
Minjay at 2 years old, July 2012.

Yesterday morning, on my way from our apartment door to the elevator, I realized I had forgotten a document that I needed. I had just held it in my hands a few minutes before, so I rushed back inside to pick it up. The weirdest thing happened–as it only does when you absolutely have to leave for an appointment and don’t have time to calmly sort through your things. The paper disappeared.

For some reason, this distressed me a lot. I just had it in my hands! I really wanted to take it with me to the doctor’s appointment (it was a billing issue), and I couldn’t find it. I think that, combined with the fact that I hadn’t slept too well nor eaten breakfast (it was an early appointment), and I wasn’t in my best frame of mind. Stress took over, and I began to madly shuffle all the papers on my desk, pulling out folders and piles and spreading them out. Where was it?

As I searched, I could feel my own anxiety. But then something remarkable happened. When I moved the papers to a footstool to spread them out better, Minjay gave a whine I’ve rarely heard him make (the only times I can think of are once after he had surgery and a couple of times in the car when we were going reverse downhill and it obviously made him nervous). He was just standing next to me watching me madly shuffle at great speed, and he could obviously sense my anxiety– more than that, he could feel it. I had transferred it to him.

I had already learned a couple of years ago that he can sense my excitement. When I grab his leash and am clearly excited to leave the house, and show him that, he jumps around happily at the door even more than usual.

There have been plenty of studies that show how intelligent dogs are and how they can sense our emotions. But this was the first time I saw how my anxiety spread to him tangibly.

All yesterday morning, I couldn’t help thinking about how it could affect other people around me, if it could affect the happiest dog in the world (no really, he is),

That’s a lesson I’ll never forget.


Read more: Children of anxious parents are more likely to be anxious. — from

Lessons From Minjay, No. 1: Stay Out and Walk. Who Cares If You’re 7 Minutes Late?

American Sweetgum Trees Santa Monica

This blog was inspired by my mornings with Minjay, my yellow lab who turns six years old this month. I first came up with the idea before he was even one year old. As is often the case, time passed, years passed, before I did anything with it.

Last summer, I dove in and decided to start the blog, getting rid of all excuses. I decided to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. I am so glad I started it then and started to share the world Minjay opened up to me.

But I want to do more.

A couple of weeks ago, I launched a new Q&A series on this blog that I’ll be sharing often. I’ll also be sharing experiments with work-life balance that I’m trying, or a book I’m reading that is useful in this quest.

And, most importantly, I’ll share one of the many lessons I’ve learned from Minjay over the past few years. I hope to turn these lessons into a book, one day soon, and I feel this blog will be a great way to start to form my ideas and get feedback. It’s also a great way to continue to fight against “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Saying I want to write essays for a book has been intimidating, but a short blog post is way more manageable. And that’s the first step.

So, even though this whole blog has been lessons from Minjay, I’ll call this my first official post in the series on “Lessons From Minjay:

Stay Out and Walk, Just a Little Bit More. Who Cares if You Aren’t at Work at 9am Sharp? What’s 9am? What’s sharp?

Revelation: Most of the time, the world doesn’t care if I’m 7 minutes late.

Yes, sometimes there are specific meetings I must be on time for, be it work or a dentist appointment. It would be disrespectful not to. If you need to catch a train or plane, 7 minutes do matter. I’m not talking about situations where there is a very specific start time. I’m talking about situations where we create or invent a time we need to be somewhere. When I think back to the majority of times when I was stressed and rushing to get somewhere at a specific time that I had in mind, it was really absolutely unnecessary.

American Sweetgum TreesI learned this on a sidewalk two blocks from my house early last summer. It was a beautiful morning. The American Sweetgum trees that line the streets near my building were a luscious green. We were at the corner, and Minjay was pulling me backward as I tried to lead him forward across the street toward the house.

“Minjay, pleeeease,” I pleaded out loud, “We have to get back home now. I’ll be late.” He refused to move. After being frustrated for a couple of minutes, I realized: He was absolutely right.

I looked at my watch. We weren’t talking about being an hour late. Did 3 minutes really matter? Or 7?  I had done my best to organize my morning, but would it really be so catastrophic if I didn’t arrive to work at 9:30 sharp as I was “supposed” to. Wouldn’t I actually work better, perform better, produce more, if I took in a deep breath, enjoyed the grass and the trees and the fresh morning smells and sounds, and walked home slowly.

I relaxed my grip on his leash, and he walked backward to continue to smell a particularly interesting patch of grass. Then I followed his own pace, which really only took us a few minutes longer than mine would have.

That was when I learned an important lesson about my own hubris: You don’t matter THAT much.

Most of the time (there are certainly exceptions where you really do need to be “on time,” don’t get me wrong–and some jobs do have severe policies, but that is a different blog post altogether regarding how we need to change our workplaces in general), but most of the time, the world simply does NOT care about you rushing from here to there, being stressed, driving aggressively, often even being rude to other people that get in your way.

I think the world and people you work with care a lot more that you are calm, that you appreciate a spring morning, and get to wherever you need to be refreshed, with perspective and without the unnecessary, self-constructed anxiety that helps no one.

That morning, I was exactly 7 minutes “late.” I was at my desk at 9:37 instead of 9:30. Did it ruin my day? Did I not do my job? Quite the contrary. I powered my way through my to-do list and had the best morning in a long time.

This goes to another point, which is how we measure productivity with the minutes and hours spent in front of a computer. We’ve got to figure out, as a society, how to measure it in a different, and more accurate, way.

Yellow labs can help us do that.