Service animals play a huge role in our society. From the familiar seeing-eye dog to animals that have been specially trained to provide support for veterans with PTSD, our animal companions have proven their ability to provide invaluable assistance to humans. In addition to the service dogs that are used by countless people with physical disabilities, there are emotional support animals to help people face their struggles with invisible monsters like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and countless other mental health disorder.
With more than 25% of the American adult population suffering from some type of mental health disorder, emotional support animals have become increasingly important. These animals help relieve stress and can distract us from our own internal battles. They can even have a physical effect on the human body in times of extreme emotional distress. We all know that there is something about the wag of a puppy dog tail or the sound of a cat purring that makes us feel better and helps melt away negative feelings. But just how much of a positive effect do they have on us? Let’s take a closer look at some of the positive effects of emotional support animals.
Decreased Feelings of Loneliness
Dealing with mental illness on your own isn’t easy. In fact, it can be quite isolating. People who suffer from mental health problems often struggle to function in social settings and in public, worsening the feelings of isolation and loneliness. Having an emotional support dog (or another type of emotional support animal) helps reduce those feelings. ESAs provide companionship and can make their owners feel much less alone. Since animals like dogs love going for walks, they can also force their owners out into the world and provide opportunities for socialization.
Even though they can’t talk back, emotional support animals also act as ever-present listeners. Sometimes, you just need someone to talk to. Having a trusted animal to confide in means that you are never alone. And unlike some people, your ESA will never judge you or stop loving you because of something you confide to them.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Many who suffer from mental illness struggle with intense anxiety and panic attacks. Our modern lives are extremely stressful, and the anxiety can be too much to handle for some people. Emotional support animals have been proven to counteract the effects of extreme stress and anxiety. In fact, studies have shown that stress levels decrease when a person interacts with a trusted animal. As stress levels drop, anxiety eases. Decreasing stress can also prevent or stop panic attacks.
Increased Physical Activity
Depression and other disorders often keep people from engaging in physical activity. While it may otherwise be difficult to find a reason to get out of the bed in the morning, having an emotional support animal that depends on you gives you a purpose. Having a dog, for example, can help give people who are struggling with mental illness a reason to get up and go for a walk or play outside. Physical activity is good for the body, and it also boosts production of the feel-good hormones known as endorphins.
Improved Physical Health
When someone struggles with their mental health, it can take a serious toll on their physical health. Stress, anxiety, and depression can contribute to high blood pressure, weight gain, high cholesterol, and a host of other physical problems.
Having an emotional support animal helps counteract some of these problems. Studies have shown that emotional support animals help lower blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol. And since they help increase physical activity in their owners, they can also help with weight loss.
Sense of Purpose
Many individuals who struggle with mental health problems feel like their life has no purpose. Having an emotional support animal means having something that depends on you on a daily basis. Making sure the animal is fed, watered, and properly exercised creates a positive routine for the patient and is something that he or she can feel proud of. Spending time with an animal also forces one to focus on their needs instead of their own problems. Sometimes, this simple distraction can help alleviate an anxiety attack or depressive episode.
Emotional support animals play a huge role in their owner’s lives. From providing a sense of purpose to alleviating feelings of loneliness, they are loving companions that can make life a bit easier for people struggling with mental illnesses.
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