5 Ways Minna Lee and Her Corgi Prioritize Their Collective Mental Health
The wellness entrepreneur on living with and learning from her anxious dog, from taking breaks to setting boundaries.
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Tucked between the healthy living tips and home inspo on Minna Lee’s Instagram feed, you’ll spot the unmistakable face of Sir Benedict Cumberbatch. Not the actor, mind you: the Corgi.
“I think that dogs mirror us in some ways,” the wellness advocate and entrepreneur says of her expressive two-year-old pup who goes by his nickname, Benny. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Lee, who is open about her own journey with anxiety, cares for a dog who has anxious tendencies too. For Benny, any unfamiliar noise can trigger fear and jumpiness.
Considering that Lee and her boyfriend just moved across the country (from Brooklyn to Los Angeles), new and nerve-inducing noises have become a lot more frequent lately. The move has been an adjustment for Lee also, who reports that it’s been an exciting time — but also a particularly busy and stressful one.
“When our stress compounds and we reach a certain breaking point, even the littlest things will trigger us. If we’re neglecting ourselves, or if we’re not taking the time to kind of decompress, it’s going to build up and get to a point where everything is stressful and overwhelming,” says Lee. “And it’s the exact same with dogs.” These are the strategies that the duo is using to prioritize their collective mental health.
1. They take breaks together.
During long days working from home with a packed schedule, Lee embraces the opportunity to play with Benny between her calls and meetings. “In terms of my mental health, I do think that taking breaks throughout the day is helpful,” she says.
And though she and her boyfriend sometimes have to plan around Benny’s needs, doing so is always worth it. “Even if we’re really stressed out, if we take a minute to play with him and give him attention, he’s always so happy that we’re spending time with him,” she notes. “He is just this positive energy in our lives.”
2. They are sure to stay moving — but carve out time to rest, too.
While going on daily walks outdoors is a boon to both Lee and Benny’s health, restful moments inside are also essential for keeping stress levels down. To help them both bounce back from the sensory overload of their new surroundings, Lee will pop on some calm, classical music, step away from distracting stimuli, and encourage moments of intentional resting and recovering (and in Benny’s case, napping!).
3. They call on herbal allies.
“He’s a CBD user, just like me,” Lee says of Benny. She’s found that the calming plant compound helps turn down both her and Benny’s stress responses over time. Lee reaches for Equilibria CBD to help her navigate jam-packed weeks, while Benny opts for Nuvita, which is specifically formulated for dogs. Though he doesn’t love the taste of it — even if it’s covering a cookie — Lee has noticed that it helps make him less reactive on days when he’s clearly starting from a stressed baseline.
4. They set and stick to boundaries.
In caring for Benny’s anxiety over the last few years, Lee has actually learned a lot about caring for her own. “It’s funny how much their behavior teaches you,” Lee notes, explaining how if Benny decides he doesn’t want to play or be pet, he’ll simply walk away and take time to himself. “Dogs make it known exactly what they want,” Lee has noticed — an admirable lesson for anyone who is prone to weak boundaries or people-pleasing.
5. They are gentle with their expectations.
Finally, Lee has found that when she’s in the middle of a stressful time, it can be helpful to reframe her expectations and drop the need to stay “balanced.” “I am one of those people who think that balance is bullshit,” she admits.
This month, for example, she knows that she has too much on her plate to expect to feel relaxed and at ease at any given moment. “What I’m trying to do with my mental health right now is be really realistic and honest with myself and not try to make my life anything that it’s not,” Lee explains. “I’m not overwhelming myself with the need to do all the self-care, because right now it just feels like an additional thing on my to-do list — which defeats the point.”
Instead of trying to force more restorative activities into an already packed schedule, she’s just focusing on fulfilling her basic health needs (good sleep, a nutritious diet) until things clear up again. She’s also being intentional about the amount of work and responsibilities she takes on after this busy period has passed. That’s when she’ll have the time to truly rest, recover, and explore her new surroundings — with Benny at her feet through it all, of course.
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“She was my lockdown companion, but I had to learn to slowly navigate my fears and anxiety without her as my constant companion.”
(And your own, while you’re at it.)
Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.