Chantel Sloan's dog, Skye

Chantel Sloan's dog, a mini Australian shepherd named Skye.

Dogs, ammi right?

Mine is a 1-year-old, blue-eyed tri-color mini Australian shepherd named Skye. She’s full of energy and is decidedly bossy (not to mention a bit neurotic). She’s also sweet, playful, extroverted and whip smart. Skye is an adorable fluffy little loaf of joy and attitude, and I love her.

I got Skye last April. She was just a couple of months old. My twin sister was choosing a puppy for her family and asked me to come along. I toyed with the idea of getting a dog but didn’t think it was the right time. Famous last words. There I was on a farm surrounded by 12 little Aussie pups. My sister picked out the one that was just right for her family. Suddenly this little blue-eyed panda bear of a puppy jumped right into my lap, made eye contact and started licking my face. I was toast.

With Skye came a dose of chaos into my world. There was suddenly this little whirlwind of energy running through the house and trying to decide where to use the bathroom and what to chew on. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it definitely made my normal routine impossible, thank goodness.

As it turns out, the timing of getting Skye was perfect. Just a couple months prior, I had a very sudden onset of a mental health issue that shook me up pretty bad.

Genetics, ammi right?

I got a lot of great help and advice, and thankfully I was able to get back to mostly-normal life relatively quickly. However, while going through the process there was one piece of advice that caught me off guard. I was told I needed to intentionally bring more spontaneity into my life. Hmm, intentional spontaneity? How does that work?

I am a scientist, professor, member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and my hobbies include playing the violin. I love all these things, and they were all aspects of my life that lifted me in some way during that time. However, as it so happens, they also all have some emphasis on order, responsibility, performance, or precision. Order and precision can be the enemy of mental and emotional stress, because you spend all your time in your head rather than paying attention to your emotions or physical experiences. I needed things that would get me out of my head and paying more attention to life’s moments.

Before you ask, I don’t have kids — the most obvious potential source for spontaneity or chaos.

Dating, ammi right?

Then along came my fluffy, bossy, loaf. She interrupted me constantly to go out and play or to get a treat or to use the bathroom or bark at the neighbors or chase a random leaf. (She has interrupted the writing of this article several times). I’ve spent more time outside with her than I probably did the three prior years combined. And you know what? It’s awesome when it’s not driving me crazy. It’s helped me tremendously, despite all those 2 a.m. potty trips to the backyard.

Now, you’ve probably wondered if I’m going to get all the way through this article without mentioning COVID-19. Sorry, no. But I tried to keep it to the end.

I have researched infectious diseases for almost 10 years, taught an infectious disease prevention class for seven years, and seen the movie Contagion at least 15 times. I can tell you all about the statistical models scientists are using to predict what will happen next, why social distancing is our only real option right now, and if you want to know about masks, vaccines or hand-washing, pull up a chair. (This article was actually almost going to be about “The math of pandemics.” I made it about my dog instead. You’re welcome).

All that knowledge about infectious diseases is great. I can take some solace in knowing we are doing the right thing and can communicate with and teach people during a difficult time. I’m grateful for that privilege. But, honestly, it’s not what is helping me out personally the most day-to-day. What’s helping me out is talking with family and friends, experiencing faith, and, yes, walking and playing with Skye every day. Her joy at chasing a ball or exploring the Provo River Trail is the good kind of infectious. The anxiety that I feel when I hear an ambulance, listen to a press conference, or read about all the negative effects of social distancing is made more manageable by some spontaneous laughter or play. It helps me be present when I need to serve, teach or support others.

I know there’s a temptation right now to try to get as much control of the situation as possible and build a sense of normalcy. But you can’t control this and life isn’t normal. Instead, try for a balance. Welcome a little chaos rather than only fighting against it all day. Maybe even create some. It helps. It’s healthy. It’s important. (If you have kids, it’s unavoidable).

Please feel free to reach out to me with questions. Stay safe, listen to advice from medical professionals and policy makers, and thank you for practicing good social distancing.

Dr. Chantel Sloan is an associate professor in Brigham Young University’s Department of Health Science. She received a Doctorate in Philosophy and Genetics at Dartmouth College and completed a postdoctoral program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.