According to the study, “The power of support from companion animals…,” there were significant findings for the benefits of canine companionship for those with PTSD, feelings of loneliness, depression, worry, and irritability. When it comes to people with anxiety, the study stated that owners could conclusively tell when animals could sense when support for mental health was needed and that the animals acted accordingly with those requests. This study also noted that not only do those with issues with mental health experience a decrease in symptoms but an increase in behavioral action, including enhanced mobility, increased exercise, and better contact with the outside world.
Research and Examples Showing the Benefits of ESAs and Anxiety
At the University of Cabrini, a student with anxiety has reported better control over her symptoms of anxiety after adopting and licensing a lionhead rabbit for an ESA. As one of many examples, the rise of ESA on college campuses has contributed significantly to the increase of ESA’s on college campuses. According to an American Psychological Association, a survey of over 130 college and university counseling centers showed that the number of students seeking appointments steadily increased 30 percent between 2009 to 2010 and 2014 to 2015. This is due to the stigma of mental illnesses throughout generations, as many students on college campuses have treatments for mental illnesses and are more able to complete their degrees.
Another study, conducted by animal behaviorists in Japan, found that both male and female dogs and owners experience a rise in oxytocin levels after 30 minutes of interacting with one another. One note to keep in mind about the research and examples present is that while some research shows the benefits of animals on people’s mental health, those examples are minimal, as few studies claim pet-owner companionship impacts positively on the owner’s psychological well-being in terms of decreased depression, anxiety and loneliness. Such findings, according to the article “Cat and Dog Companionship and Well-being: A Systematic Review,” need to be considered cautiously because of some of the methodological flaws in pet-human well-being studies.
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How Can ESA’s Help Treat Anxiety Disorders
Emotional support animals aim to calm their owners and help aid in the treatment of mental disorders through distraction, companionship, and care. While ESA’s are limited in their rights in comparison to service animals and therapy animals, having an ESA can significantly benefit a person’s life. Here are some of the ways that ESAs can help treat anxiety:
- Help produce oxytocin and serotonin – Animals such as dogs increase dopamine and other neurochemicals associated with love and bonding. Through these kinds of interactions, having an ESA around can help make you feel less anxious and increases your capacity to care for another being.
- Provide Companionship and Love – Having an ESA can help bring back their stability by giving that person someone to love and care for. ESAs can provide their owners with a feeling of connectedness, and unconditional love that those with anxiety may feel is impossible to find with other people. Through this consistent interaction, ESAs can dramatically improve that person’s overall mental health and decrease the debilitating nature of their symptoms.
- ESAs can work with Other Treatments – While antidepressants aim to produce serotonin as well as other cognitive behavioral treatments to treat the symptoms of anxiety. ESAs are not supposed to be a sole treatment for mental illnesses but are preferably used in conjunction with other medications to better the health of the individual.
- Improve Social Activity – Those with anxiety related to social interaction may find relief when operating with their ESA by their side. By creating a particular bond between the owner and their ESA, this helps improve cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune function by strengthening the individual relationship between one another. This, in turn, allows for more natural interactions between the owner and those throughout society, such as friends and family.
- Help Regulate Emotions – ESAs can benefit their owners when their emotions are dysregulated and manage those emotions regularly. The presence of an animal can regulate a person’s mood, and due to the consistent and steady demand of the animal’s attention, those with anxiety tend to stabilize in their emotions when with an emotional support animal.