Depression, anxiety, stress, phobias, and disorders – they’re all invisible illnesses that affect many people. If you live with a mental health condition you may know that sometimes there can be a bit of trial and error finding treatments that work for you and your illness. But when you find something that helps your condition – it’s a truly great feeling!
There’s a lot of information around these days about emotional support animals, both positive and negative. Licensed mental health professionals can, and do, prescribe ESAs as part of a legitimate treatment plan for a range of emotional and psychological conditions. But how does it work? What is it about emotional support animals that can actually help you feel better?
Well, often it’s a case of the seemingly small things that can add up to create something wonderful. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the everyday things you may take for granted with domestic animals or pets that are, in fact benefiting your health and wellbeing in many different ways.
1. They let you pet them
When you think about it, it’s a privilege really that another living being lets you pat and stroke them. Yes, it can be obvious that it feels pretty good to them – you see their tail wag or you hear that mighty purr! But when an animal loves your touch and responds it shows they have built up some trust in you, and who you are.
Patting and stroking an animal is also very calming. The repetitive motion helps you relax and can take your mind off other things that may be worrying you. Also, as humans, we are tactile beings. One way we feel connected to life is through our sense of touch. When a cat or dog reciprocates and puts their paw on you to let you know they’re there for you, you know you’re loved.
Scientifically, a cuddle with your pup or cat also triggers a release of a chemical in your brain, oxytocin. This is the very same bonding chemical that people with children experience when they interact with their offspring. What’s more, it’s mutual. Scientific studies have shown that animals too are releasing oxytocin when they are being cuddled and stroked.
2. They help create healthy routines and responsibility for another
The care you give to an emotional support animal or pet can help you to create and stay in healthy routines. If you’re not feeling motivated to get up and get breakfast, an animal is likely to soon let you know it’s time to place some food in their bowl.
While emotional support animals don’t need any specific training to do their “job”. This doesn’t mean that you won’t still be teaching them toilet training and the responsive behavior expected of a cat or dog you interact within your home. The process of training an emotional support dog some basic commands such as sit, stay, and lay down can build a feeling of confidence and respect between you both.
Caring for an animal can also help you learn about accepting the needs of another living being. As much as you may feel one with your animal, there is an acceptance that comes with realizing they have their own set of unique nutritional, health and daily care requirements. Living with an animal can be a great way to appreciate and come to understand that there are both differences and similarities in diversity.
3. They are right here, right now
Having an emotional support animal in your life can help distract you from negative thinking about the past or worrying about the future and bring your focus to the present. Domestic animals are also well known for seeming to sense when a person is upset and responding to that.
Pets and animals live in the now. They’re not too worried about what happened yesterday or might happen tomorrow. It’s what’s in front of their nose that matters in any giving moment.
Most well-bonded animals will give you a warm welcome when you walk in the door after being out. They will also respond enthusiastically at the sight of their favorite toy, or their leash as an indication you’re about to indulge in a little light R&R with them.
4. They move – you move
Living with any type of animal is going to encourage you to move your body through the activities and type of interaction you have with them. They all need feeding, and you may groom, play, and exercise with an emotional support animal to various degrees depending on the type of animal.
Taking a dog for a walk is a great activity that is a win-win for both you and the animal. Walking helps with both brain and body function. It strengthens your bones and muscles, and to get the much needed Vitamin D that our bodies need sunlight to make.
If vigorous exercise is your thing to reduce stress, think about a dog that loves to run to keep you company and motivated with your running to help you sweat it out.
5. They can provide a sense of security
Emotional support animals aren’t only about cuddles, comfort, and companionship. Even an animal that isn’t a “security dog” as such can offer a sense of security in your home or when you are out. Cats and dogs are super-sensitive beings, and will usually soon alert you vocally, or by their behavior, to any unusual sounds or sights in their environment.
People with emotional support animals often find that their presence also helps them to get out of the house. For example, someone with agoraphobia may feel secure enough to go for a walk around the block with their dog by their side. Or someone with phobias around flying may find the presence of their ESA on the flight helps them stay calm throughout the journey.
But wait, there is more!
Studies of people with pets have also shown that people who live with animals have lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. Both of which play an important part in how we handle and manage stress.Emotional support animals aren’t limited to dogs and cats. But thinking about how a past or present pet in your life has helped you feel better can be a good start for thinking about ways they may do so in the future! Learn more about ESAs here!