Let’s make 2021 the year of the personal reboot. This year, we’re setting attainable goals that benefit the overall wellness and happiness of ourselves and that of our pets—and we’re challenging you to join us. Reset, recharge and revitalize body and mind with Chewy’s 2021 Self-Care Challenge.
We’re breaking down wellness into bite-sized pieces by dedicating each month of the new year to conquering one manageable activity. Taking care of yourself and pet isn’t about overhauling your entire life and routine, but rather making simple, sustainable changes and improvements gradually. Whether it focuses on nutrition, mental health or creativity, each small (yet impactful) challenge can benefit your and your pet’s emotional and physical health and push you both toward becoming happier, calmer and closer.
Ready to tackle Chewy’s 2021 Self-Care Challenge? From January through December, check out each month’s task below.
January:Cook Up Comfort
It’s understandable to want to order takeout at the end of the day when you’re feeling wiped out or endlessly busy (especially with all the eating-in you’ve done over the past year). But according to a 2017 study, those who ate homecooked meals more frequently were found to have a healthier diet overall, so dedicate January to creating some new meals. Search for recipes containing some of your favorite ingredients to get you excited about trying something new, and aim to make one healthy, delish dish per week.
And because it’s always more fun cooking for others than just for yourself, create some new, extra-scrumptious recipes for your pet, too. Make it a goal to whip up a DIY treat for them in January, and see our Chewy Eats recipes for options: Dog-friendly faux red velvet truffles, anyone? How about pumpkin mini muffins for cats? For an especially healthy option, try these low-fat “Green Machine” dog treats.
While Chewy Eats recipes are vet-approved, keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to consult your own veterinarian before offering your pet new food items.
In 2020, our Instagram feed was filled with at-home craft projects everyone seemed to pick up over the stressful months stuck at home. And with good reason, too, as getting creative actually boasts some impressive wellness benefits: A 2013 study in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found that knitting, for example, can boost feelings of calm and contentment, while another study conducted by the BBC published in 2018 also explored the connection between crafting and positive psychological benefits.
So, get crafty. Make a cast out of your pet’s pawprint (this handy kit comes with everything you need) or grab a canvas and try your hand at painting pet portraits or recycle your Chewy boxes by turning them into a DIY shark-shaped dog house or a cat castle.
March:Practice Yoga With Your Pet
If you already do yoga, then you know how the practice can help calm your mind and stretch your body. (If you’re unfamiliar, know that it can lead to more mindful eating, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, while another study found it may improve cognitive ability.) And you and your pet can actually enjoy these benefits together if you include them in your yoga routine.
“Doing any type of exercise with your pet can increase endorphins, which helps a person feel better,” explains Renee Solomon, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and CEO/owner of Forward Recovery. “If you have a pet who can sit with you while you do it, it also helps relax them. Pets love routine, so if they know you’re going to be sitting in the same position for an hour, they will often join you and can reap the benefits of being calm and quiet for [at least a few minutes of that] time.”
And while your cat or dog is probably not going to master any poses other than a coincidental downward dog, they can also join you in simple, gentle stretches. Learn more about how to build a yoga routine with your pet here. (You can even help them look the part of a yogi with some stretchy yoga apparel made for dogs!)
April:Refresh Wellness Routines
Spring is the perfect time to refresh your wellness routine with an at-home facial or soak in a hot tub with a fragrant bath oil. It’s not just the treatment—it’s about taking a moment that’s just for you. If you’ve been neglecting your dry skin or normally only take quick showers, splurge on a new skin serum or relax with a bath bomb.
Help your pet spring into a new wellness routine, too. Treat them to an at-home shampoo and conditioner session, complete with a thorough brushing. Take the time to tend to any small matts or knots they might have in their fur, which can be particularly bothersome and hard to spot day-to-day. Consider investing in beginner’s at-home grooming kit to help keep your pet’s coat healthy, clean and looking fabulous.
And don’t make “spa night” a one-time thing: Work a soothing skincare treatment into your weekly wellness routine and keep up with your pet’s grooming sessions (try a pair of grooming gloves, designed to make brushing more enjoyable for your fur baby). You can even pamper yourselves with some DIY beauty treatments fit for both pets and people—like this dog-friendly blueberry facial and fur treatment.
Do you find yourself going to the same locations with your dog again and again? Maybe you frequent a certain trail, a neighborhood route or a local dog park. This month, commit to go exploring with your four-legged adventure buddy and check out a new spot each week.
It’s well documented that exercise can also be a great way to improve your mood, as Dr. Abisola Olulade, MD, of San Diego, California, explains, and moving around outside is an excellent way to make the experience enjoyable.
“Exercise [can] improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood,” Dr. Olulade says. “Exercise outside is essentially a natural antidepressant …You can take in the scenery and sounds, and it often makes it all go by faster and is often more enjoyable.”
Read up on these tips before hitting a new trail with your dog, and check out sites like AllTrails to find new, exciting dog-friendly trails in your area. Cats can get in on the action, too: Here are tips for hiking with your cat.
June:Swap Screen Time for Playtime
From Netflix binges to scrolling on social media, you’re not alone if you often find yourself glued to your screen. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. adults go online at least daily, according to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center. “When people become obsessed with their phones and social media, they are not present in their lives with people and even their pets,” Dr. Solomon told us.
In June, make a conscious effort to turn off your screens and instead spend that time doing something interactive and fun with your pet. Set an alarm on your phone for an hour each day as a reminder, then lock it in another room so you’re not tempted to check it. This will cut down on distractions and help you stay engaged with your pet. If you’re a cat parent, have a play session with a feather teaser toy and be generous with the scratches and cuddles. If you have a dog (or adventurous kitty), take advantage of the warmer weather and frolic outside.
July:Get Better Beauty Sleep
Sleep an elusive dream? You’re not alone. In fact, it’s estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness. You can set yourself up for sleep success by following these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Head to bed at the same time and wakeup at the same time each morning (even on the weekends!)
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and at a comfortable temperature—and free from noisy, distracting and light-producing electronic devices (like your TV, laptop and phone).
- Exercise during the day.
- Cut off caffeine well before bedtime (You typically want to stop consuming caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.)
Pets also need a certain amount of sleep to maintain optimum health. While it depends on your specific pet and their age, dogs typically need around 14 hours of shuteye per 24-hour period, while adult cats typically snooze 13 to 16 hours.
Ensure your pet’s bed or crate is in a quiet and calm area of the house, and, to help you both get ready to turn in, incorporate your pet into your nighttime routine: Feed and walk your pet at the same time each evening and finish with a wind-down activity to help calm them (like a gentle brushing if they enjoy it). You can learn more about improving your cat's sleeping habits here and your dog’s here.
“Petitation” could be the key to quieting your mind (who knew!). While a 2014 study found that meditating for a few minutes a day can help lessen feelings of anxiety and depression, some may find it hard to focus. Incorporating your pet into a meditation practice could better the experience. “I think it’s easier because you don’t have to focus on something so obscure,” Elisabeth Paige, a research associate at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of The Petitation Companion: Enhance the Lives of You and Your Pets with Mindfulness Meditation told Yoga Journal.
We’re not talking a huge time commitment. For a few minutes each day this month, sit down on mat or on a comfy cushion and indulge in a bit of quiet time and peaceful stillness. Invite your pet to join you and experiment with syncing your breathing with your pet’s and gently petting them. (Allow them to get up and leave the mediation session if they wish—this should be enjoyable for both of you!)
September:Learn Something New
Come September, school is back in session, marking the perfect time to remember that it’s never too late for you or your pet to learn something new.
Mastering a new skill can help you feel more confident in yourself, while helping your pet exercise their cognitive abilities. “Learning something or participating in a new social activity can help to protect against a decline in cognition,” says Dr. Olulade, noting that research suggests this is due to neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons in the brain.
If your dog hasn’t mastered a fresh trick since puppyhood, the two of you can expand your knowledge of obedience and agility training. Learn how to get your pup to shake paws here, or explore agility exercises by outfitting your backyard with Cool Runners Agility Dog Training Weave Poles and reading up on clicker training. Or, if you’re the fur mama or papa to particularly confident kitty, consider leash training them and exploring the great outdoors together. (See how to get started here.)
October:Find Your Pack
Make new friends with a shared interest: your love for your animals! Befriending fellow pet parents is a great way to expand your social circle—and, if your pet gets along well with others, they’ll likely enjoy meeting new friends, too.
The next time you head out to the dog park, try striking up a conversation with other pup parents there. The best part is that you have a built-in conversation starter—your dogs! Ask them about their pets or how often they visit this dog park, or compliment their training or cute collar. After you feel comfortable (and you see that your dogs get along), you can suggest going for a group dog walk with your new crew.
(Meetup also offers the option for online events for social distancing.)
November:Make Gratitude Your Attitude
It’s a Thanksgiving tradition to state what you’re thankful for, so there’s no better time to put into words how grateful you are for your pet and their companionship.
Writing out exactly what you love about your fur baby is a great way remind yourself how lucky you are to have them in your life. “Writing your feelings down, in terms of gratitude, in a love letter to your pet [may] help improve one's mental health tremendously,” Dr. Solomon says. “Gratitude forces us to look at the positive in our lives. It helps us to stop focusing on just the negative and see the full picture.”
Maybe mention how much fun you and your pet have finding new hiking trails and meeting other pet parents, or reflect on how your cuddle sessions help you through stressful situations. After you’ve written your letter, read it aloud to your pet while treating them to plenty of head scratches and belly rubs.
Take all the positive energy you’ve created over the past year with your pet and pay it forward. Walk dogs at a local shelter, consider fostering another furry friend or find another way to be charitable.
“Seek reputable rescues whose funding goes 100 percent towards their rescuing efforts,” suggests Maydy Bran-Orona, a volunteer with the SoCal Animal Rescue Squad (S.C.A.R.S.). “Donations also go a long way,” she says, noting that toys, blankets, pet food, treats and flea medications are typically always needed by rescues (although you should contact your local organization to see what they specifically need).
However you choose to give back, volunteering may just help you as much as it helps someone else.
“Volunteering has been linked to lower stress and anxiety and also increased overall happiness,” Dr. Olulade explains. “It distracts your brain from your own anxiety.”
Doing good and feeling good—there’s simply no better way to close out the year.