5 Ways Emotional Support Animals Help Ease Anxiety

by Sakina Kheriwala last updated -

Those who love animals are the first ones to tell you the unconditional joy they receive from their furry buddies. There is a feel-good combination of love and support that warms you up when you feel low. However, many of us are oblivious to the physical and mental health benefits accompanying the pleasure of snuggling up to a little ball of fur. It is only recently that studies have scientifically explored the recognition of an emotional support animal (ESA) and the role it plays in providing love and support to people suffering from anxiety. [1]

Social animals such as dogs offer a social buffer and sense of security to those who panic or feel uneasy. There are special service dogs for anxiety at airports, university campuses, and public places to lighten up an individual’s mood. Moreover, an emotional support animal is often mistaken for a pet, which is not the case. Now, as the need for emotional support animals appears to increase, the general public, businesses, and even legislators find the topic confusing. So, let us decode that for you step-by-step with our guide on ESAs below.

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) provides warm support to a person with a valid mental or psychiatric disability. ESAs for anxiety improve the lives of those who experience feelings of fear and worry. According to a study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, support animals provide physical and psychiatric support to those in need, primarily in the home. They also promote social interaction and connection to combat it. Some common labels used are dogs for depression, emotional support dogs, and skilled companions. [2] [3]

Emotional support animals are different from service animals. Service animals are given proper training to perform tasks for individuals, such as helping the blind navigate while walking. Whereas, an ESA does not undergo any sort of training and gives you support to help you overcome any overbearing issues (mentally or physically).

Dachshund dog with luggage bag ready to travel

An emotional support animal provides therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

How to Get an Emotional Support Animal?

Getting an ESA for anxiety requires an official recommendation letter from a medical expert. It should specifically state that the person requiring ESA is undergoing treatment, and they recommend that their patient should have an ESA for support and assistance due to facing anxiety-related concerns.

Although various options are available online, there is no official or required registration procedure for ESAs. However, some institutions expect that an ESA is identified by donning a vest or tag and a letter of recommendation is a must proof as a valid ESA. You can visit local shelters and adopt one or opt for a pet store instead.

Benefits of an Emotional Support Animal

Research shows that animals provide a sense of comfort and improve an individual’s mental health significantly. Another research found that having a support animal has positive effects on mental health by promoting emotional connectivity and helping people manage in times of crisis. Some of the benefits that support animals may provide include: [4]

Alleviate Anxiety and Stress

Having a support animal helps reduce an individual’s stress and anxiety. By offering compassion, they help reduce panic attacks and anxieties. Sitting with your furry pal for a couple of minutes and petting them calms you down and brings a sense of happiness. Moreover, if you are having a terrible day or feel overwhelmed, your support animal brings euphoria and excitement by playing a few tricks or by spending time with you alone. [5]

Prevent from Physical Injuries

ESAs also helps in keeping physical illnesses at bay. They lessen the risk of high blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. They encourage you to lead an active lifestyle by taking them for walks, spending time outdoors, or meeting different people. Such changes in the routine prevent the cropping up of health issues. [6]

Offer Exceptional Companionship

Due to their warm and caring persona, they eliminate feelings of isolation and seclusion that one may face. Sometimes, we need a support system to help us through traumatic episodes, where the ESA fits right perfectly. For eg., an ESA companion is beneficial for people who are afraid of getting on planes. [7]

Your support animal also encourages you to interact with other pet owners. You meet new people in the park or anywhere, and this lessens the fear of missing out or being lonely.

Support Mental Health and Trauma

A support animal is recommended by therapists and psychiatrists to help lessen the traumatic symptoms and other mental health difficulties like depression. ESAs are one’s antidepressants as they help release serotonin in the body that helps depression symptoms disappear. A few moments of cuddling your furry pal relieves some of the gloominess you feel. Those who suffer from trauma or PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) can also benefit from support animals as it offers you a distraction and a better way to cope. [8]

Provide a New Purpose

The furry and adorable creatures shower unconditional love and support and if reciprocated, it creates a wonderful and ever-lasting bond. When you look after your little ball of fur, you begin to develop a new purpose in life and want to see them every day as they become an indispensable part of your existence. [9]

Key advice: If there is a need for an emotional support animal for you or your loved one, consult a doctor or therapist before signing up for one. One must remember that animals are a gifted source of unconditional love and companionship. Having an ESA can be a mentally and physically rewarding activity as it provides lifelong large-scale benefits.

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About the Author

A journalism postgraduate from Macquarie University, Sydney, Sakina Kheriwala is a content writer at Organic Facts and an avid blogger who is passionate about health and wellness. Her blog “One in A Millennial” portrays her incomparable passion for writing, particularly on mental health. She believes that reading and writing is free and useful therapy. In her spare time, she is to be found reading books, socializing, and listening to soulful music. Sakina has completed an online e-certificate course on “Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health” from The University of Sydney, Australia.

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