Time to get real with you all. I am not a fan of rodents. I find them to be vile, disgusting, beady-eyed little creatures. There I said it. Not to mention the fact that they carry diseases that can be harmful to humans and urinate and leave little poop droppings everywhere. See what I mean? Kind of hard not to be absolutely terrified and revolted. It may not be the most enlightened view, but, hey, I’m a therapist, not a saint *shrugs shoulders*
However, I recently learned a lot about anxiety and managing anxiety from voles. If you are not familiar with voles, they are basically mice that live outdoors. They look like this:
Smaller, darker, and with shorter tails than mice you find inside your house, voles like to tunnel underground, and they tend to be attracted to yards with lots of green grass and cover. Guess whose front and back yards provide both? That’s right, it’s (unfortunately) me. I first learned about voles last spring when I noticed some areas where small holes had started to form under our front concrete walkway. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention, but then as the months went on, the holes became more noticeable and something else had started to appear. Tracks of twisting and turning tunnels through my grass. (I am feeling my frustration rise as I type this). You see, the tell-tale giveaway that you have voles that have taken up residence on your property are these very distinct tracks they tunnel through your lawn:
Voles are not easy to get rid of either. They breed anytime of the year and they do not hibernate in the winter. Female voles mature in 35 – 40 days and can have 5-10 liters per year! Basically, this means, once they have decided to call your property home, they can quickly multiply exponentially. So, my husband and I did what any logical person would do in this situation, we hired an exterminator. The exterminator came twice, once in December, and once in April after the snow on the ground had done some melting. They dropped poisoned pellets of grain into each of the vole tunnel entrances and through the slats in the composite deck we have out back. After about three weeks, we covered up the holes with steel wool and refilled them with dirt, and for a year everything seemed to be perfect. No more voles…
Until, this June when they came back with a vengeance. Tending to my yard one day, to my horror, I discover fresh tracks in our grass and new holes out front under our walkway. My anxiety immediately went from a 10 to a 70. My mind was racing with so many thoughts: “How can this be happening again? Why does this keep happening to my yard? I hate these voles! This isn’t fair!” And so, it went in my head for weeks, a constant track of the same thoughts circling round and round, fueling my anxiety to new heights. I found myself waking up at night in the middle of an anxiety attack: my heart racing, my breathing faster than normal, my mind going so fast I could not even stop it.
What made this whole thing worse was the fact that another extermination service was going to be an expense that I had not planned on and didn’t want to spend. I was fighting this whole situation on every level of my being, and it was putting me in a horrible state, both physically and mentally. I was not sleeping well, which meant that I was not well equipped to deal with my constant anxiety during the day or any other emotions for that matter. I also could not stop resisting reality, which was making me bitter, angry, heavy hearted and miserable. Suddenly, something clicked for me.
I realized I was in the same mental and emotional headspace that many of my clients are when they seek out therapy. I thought about what I would say to myself if I was my own client. First things first, I would tell me that fighting the reality of this situation was not helping me at all. I needed to practice radical acceptance around the fact that the voles were back in my yard. What I realized (once again) is that practicing radical acceptance is hard work. It takes a constant commitment, sometimes moment to moment, to accepting reality. One can find themselves accepting reality one minute and slipping back into resisting reality the next. It takes vigilance and awareness, and a desire to accept.
The next thing I realized was that the longer I avoided acting to problem solve what I could problem solve, the more my anxiety increased. There was, the tempting trap of avoidance. It promises you relief in the moment because you get to avoid the thing that is causing you the anxiety. However, in the long run, that thing is still there…hanging around, breathing down the back of your neck, reminding you of what you of what you have not dealt with. Avoidance of the thing(s) you are anxious about only serves to increase that anxiety over the long term.
So, with that in mind, I called the exterminator again. It wasn’t the solution I wanted, but it was the solution that was most effective given the circumstances. That’s the thing to keep in mind, sometimes the solution to a problem isn’t always easy or the one you want, but if it’s the most effective solution for you in that situation, then it’s the solution that makes sense.
The exterminator came, laid out the bait traps, and my anxiety lessened the same day, which only confirmed what I already knew. Anxiety lessens when we get to working on the cause of the anxiety. Avoidance of the cause only serves to increase the anxiety. As a therapist, I constantly look for opportunities to practice the skills I teach my clients, because I know they work and using them myself also makes me a better teacher and resource when helping guide my clients in the use of these skills. This time, I was given the opportunity to relearn some valuable lessons and skills about radical acceptance and anxiety…and it only took a rodent problem to help remind me.