May the weekend bring you lots of good times, good company and respite. Today’s guest post comes to you from Brad Smith of Therapy Pets on a subject that I’m very passionate about and can personally vouch for – emotional support animals. If you’re new here, you can read this post on how my furry child Jazz (pictured above) turned things around for me. I also strongly recommend animal rescue, as there are tonnes of them all over the world starving, homeless, mistreated and in need of a forever home. Animals are so kind and loving, they make any home (and heart) warmer if you just show them some love and care, plus they don’t get put down to free up space in a shelter if you adopt them, so you’d be doing a world of good by choosing one (or more).
Now having a pet for emotional support is by no means a new thing, but there’s actual proof that it works well and Brad, who wholeheartedly endorses it himself, is here to tell us all about why it’s such a great idea. Click through for more details…
According to many mental health professionals, the difference between unmanageable and manageable anxiety could just be as simple as owning an emotional support animal (ESA). An ESA is a companion animal or pet that provides its owner or handler with comfort and emotional support, which may include improving even a single symptom of disability. ESA are mostly dogs, but can be cats, birds, fish, horses, etc. depending on personal preference and do not require any specific training to earn the title of ESA.
Pets are well known to provide support for various emotional disorders, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, suicidal tendencies and more. This happens simply by being present when their owner/handler becomes emotionally vulnerable and distressed. Animals are very intuitive and compassionate, so the reason why so many mental health professionals recommend ESA animals is that these pets bring immense improvement in the lives of their owners who have mental/emotional challenges. Here are some examples:
- A study published in 2009 confirmed that having a pet dog helped reduce anxiety levels in elderly residents of a care facility.
- This 1991 study found that emotional support dogs helped manage autonomic stress in females.
- Another study in 2001 showed that pet owners experienced a reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes since they had lower blood pressure levels and heart rates. They also responded better to physical and psychological stress and recovered quickly from those stresses.
Emotional support animals are known to bring a number of psychosocial and psychological benefits which can come from stroking or holding an animal. The result is usually a relaxing, calming effect which in turn alleviates loneliness, lowers anxiety, improves social interaction, normalises blood pressure and heart rate, reduces stress, depression and pain and increases pleasure. Based on the results of these studies, it is believed that living with an ESA may reduce symptoms connected with several different psychiatric and emotional disabilities. As per the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), emotional support animals by their nature can relieve anxiety and depression without requiring any training simply by increasing pleasurable moments in our lives. Editor’s Note: more pleasure = Dopamine production, which is one of the brain’s major feel-good neurochemicals.
Another big benefit of having an emotional support animal is that in some countries, your pet cannot be denied housing. This means that even if your landlord has an ‘anti-pet policy’, the law regarding ESAs and housing still allows your pet to live with you. They also have the permission to fly with you in airplanes. Editor’s note: Get with it, Jamaica! I had to move Jazz to a foster parent and eventually move out myself, which was very difficult.
The reason why mental health professionals swear by emotional support animals is that they are more than just your regular pets. They are part of your family, your closest confidant and your best friend. People with social anxiety and other mental disabilities may tend to not get along well with humans but the same people can feel at home with their emotional support pets. These animals don’t judge you, never talk back, always stick by you and love you unconditionally. They also allow you the experience of the therapeutic value of caring for another.
Another key point, many therapists worldwide recommend pets or emotional support animals to socially awkward individuals as they influence them to spend more time outdoors and encourage their interaction with other people and pet owners. They also naturally allow people to get more exercise, which is not only important for healthy weight, but also crucial for staying happy as it releases serotonin and endorphins that in turn help stabilize your mood.
— Brad Smith
Editor’s note: If you’re in Jamaica and struggling, maybe this is something you can look into for an improvement in your mental/physical health and general outlook. You can also check out the JSPCA for animal adoption. Saving an animal who needs love can do wonders for your mood and your life, I can attest.