How an Emotional Support Animal Helps Mental Health

Emotional support animals (ESA) have been a hot topic lately. This new, holistic approach to therapy uses the unique bond between animals and their owners to help treat and offset the impacts of various mental health disorders.

One might wonder how an animal can help someone’s mental health. There are many ways an ESA can help, and the application is a simple and straightforward approach to helping what is often a complex issue.

Here’s everything you need to know about how an ESA can help.

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ESA Regulations and Restrictions

To be eligible for an ESA, you must have a discussion with your doctor or psychiatrist to have this form of treatment recommended. There are a variety of mental health issues which an ESA might be used for, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, sensory processing disorders, and PTSD.

Once you have the recommendation in written form, ESA registration allows you to have an animal in a rental, even if a no-pets rule applies, and on commercial flights (depending on the animal in question).

Unlike with service animals and guide dogs, you are not allowed to take them in public areas like libraries, restaurants, and movie theaters.

How They Help

Emotional support animals help offset the impacts of mental health disorders in a variety of ways. Here are some of the commonly experienced benefits:

Calming During Episodes

Many mental health disorders, PTSD in particular, comes with episodes of enhanced symptoms, such as anxiety attacks or flashbacks. During these episodes, an ESA can help calm the individual, by offering tactile support and anchoring them to the present moment.

Whereas humans often don’t know what to do in these situations, animals are intuitive and receptive without trying to take charge or panicking.

Sense of Responsibility

For those experiencing bereavement or depression, getting out of bed in the morning can feel like scaling Everest. An ESA adds a sense of responsibility even in the darkest times. A pet owner knows they have to get up to care for their pet, give them food and water, and ensure they’re able to relieve themselves appropriately.

This sense of responsibility can be the driving force in getting someone moving, even when they feel as though they can’t care for themselves.

Social Interaction

Those with anxiety often have a hard time with social interactions. An ESA provides interaction with a living, breathing creature without the associated feelings that come with trying to speak to other humans.

They also act as a great buffer and start social engagements for those who desire interaction but don’t know how to start. Dogs, in particular, are known for attracting fellow animal lovers during a walk in the park and sparking conversation.

Exercise and Stress Relief

A dog; image source:

Playing with an animal can boost one’s mood and bring joy during dark times. Playing fetch with a dog or using a mouse toy with a cat can get you moving and inspire laughter.

Exercise releases endorphins, which have a mood-boosting effect. Laughter can be a form of stress relief, which has an overall impact on one’s health and wellness, including improving blood pressure and decreasing insomnia.

The Argument for an ESA

These are just a few of the main reasons why an ESA can be so beneficial in combating the impacts of mental health disorders. Having the unconditional love of an animal companion offers those afflicted the chance to share their frustrations and fears in a judgment-free setting.

Whereas humans often listen with the intent to respond, animals offer no unsolicited advice nor make callous remarks out of a lack of understanding or fear. If you experience mental health issues, talk to your doctor or therapist about enlisting the services of an ESA.

About author:
This article was contributed to by a guest author.


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