Last Updated on May 12, 2021 by Pauline G. Carter
It goes without saying that humans are social animals. This social nature does not just extend to other fellow humans, but to other animals as well.
Keeping a pet at your home has many benefits, and improved mental health is one of them. Research has proven that there is a direct, positive correlation between having a pet and boosting your wellbeing, be it physical or mental.
Our bond with pets can go beyond just making us smile, though. Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental illnesses individuals experience; they affect nearly 300 million people worldwide.
If you or any of your loved ones have anxiety and are looking for ways to deal with it other than (or in addition to) psychotherapy, consider bringing home a new animal!
Before you do so, though, there are lots of details to consider. Here, we’ll cover everything from why you should adopt an anxiety support pet, which animal to choose, and how to find the best fit for your family.
No matter which animal or breed you decide to go with, it’s vital to ensure that you not only love your animal but work well with them as well. Anxiety support pets are, after all, there to ease the symptoms of mental illness.
Seeking out the guidance and advice of a trained professional may be necessary even if you find an incredible support pet; developing good coping mechanisms and emotional-control skills, among other benefits, are key services therapy can offer.
What is an anxiety support pet?
The presence of anxiety support pets or emotional support animals has significant calming effects on those who experience anxiety.
Both stress and anxiety present themselves via many different physical symptoms in addition to everything that goes on within the mind.
Specific symptoms differ from person to person and largely depend on the kind of anxiety disorder you have been diagnosed with.
Some commonly and universally experienced symptoms include:
- increased heart rate
- shortness of breath
- headache or body ache
- upset stomach, like diarrhea or constipation
- inability to concentrate
- lack of energy
The presence of an anxiety support animal helps avoid some of these symptoms and remedy others. Animals can sense emotions just like humans do, and their judgment of the person’s mood and anxiety can help them become a source of comfort and care.
Interaction with animals increases the release of serotonin, dopamine, and other chemicals that contribute to improving one’s mood.
If a person with an anxiety disorder lives alone, the companionship that a pet provides can make up for a general lack of human interaction.
This reality is particularly important because anxiety symptoms can make us less likely to interact with others willingly. Especially for people who experience Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), interaction with other people can seem too challenging to be worthwhile.
In anxious and new environments, pets can be a source of familiarity and support.
For example, if you are a nervous flyer, or feel anxious in car rides, or if you experience PTSD, the presence of an emotionally supportive pet can help you refocus your attention on things that bring you peace.
Choosing the Right Animal for Your Situation
When it comes to selecting which type of animal to look for, it helps to consider all of your specific needs and what you hope to get from your pet.
Dogs are the most common choice for many reasons, but they’re not the only choice.
For one thing, dogs are perhaps one of the easiest animals to train. They can be trained to be well-attuned to human emotions and moods and to intervene when someone is engaging in behaviors that can denote anxiety, such as fidgeting or restlessness, or lack of activity for long times.
Additionally, apart from sensing your mood and behaviors, dogs offer other unique benefits, including their ability to make contact with the body.
Deep Pressure Therapy, or DPT, is a method proven to reduce anxiety. It involves close physical contact like hugging, stroking, squeezing, or cuddling someone who feels anxious.
DPT triggers an autonomous response in your body that physically calms it down. Dogs can easily be trained (and they already love it!) to engage in DPT therapy, which not only calms you down but will likely boost your mood, too!
It’s important to note, however, that emotional support animals (ESA), even if they are dogs, are different from service dogs.
If you’re interested in an ESA, remember that they are not trained or licensed to provide the same life-saving support that a service dog can.
Other Pet Options
As mentioned, dogs are certainly not the only animals you can keep as emotional support.
While it might not be as easy to train other animals, there are many things that other animals can easily do, especially if relieving stress and anxiety is your primary goal.
You can bring home cats, birds, rabbits, fishes, or any other domesticated animal to become an emotional or anxiety support pet. Whatever makes you feel the best and fits best into your situation is an appropriate choice.
As long as the animal is not dangerous or harmful to you or anybody around you, you’re good to go with any animal of your choice (provided it does emotionally support you, of course).
What You Need to Adopt an ESA
Believe it or not, there is only one simple thing you need to bring home your new pet.
As per American guidelines, a licensed mental professional, i.e., a licensed therapist, is required to put in writing that it is their recommendation that you get an emotional support animal for your anxiety condition.
This ESA letter is all you need for your pet to qualify as an emotional support animal. You don’t need any additional registrations or licenses.
Even if your home or society has a “no pet” policy, this letter will allow you to keep your pet; however, they are not required to be allowed into public places. The ESA letter also prevents any pet charges.
Takeaway: Make a Choice Best For You
Nowadays, there are more ways than ever to treat mental illness and the symptoms it can cause, and that includes many of our furry friends.
So long as you’re mindful of what sort of pet you choose, what symptoms you’d like to address, and any extenuating circumstances that might influence your ability to own your pet, you’ll be well on your way to making a new best friend.