Last week, I brought home Joe – the new addition to my family. Joe is a 8 week old, black Cockapoo and he is gorgeous. Having been scared of dogs my whole life, the decision to get a dog really surprised a lot of people in my life. However, hearing about emotional support animals changed my perspective on pets and I am always eager to try anything that will benefit my recovery from anxiety and depression. Dogs are known for their companionship and unconditional love, therefore it is not a great shock that they will be beneficial for low self-esteem.
What are emotional support animals?
Emotional support animals (ESAs) are recommended by healthcare professionals, such as psychiatrists and doctors, to help the patient cope with their condition by decreasing the symptoms they experience and comforting them. Animals don’t require any training to be classed as an emotional support animal, and they can range from dogs to birds; ESAs can be any domesticated animal. Therapy and service animals are trained to undertake a range of tasks, such as recognising seizures and acting as a guide dog, but ESAs provide support simply by existing. To be an effective ESA, the animal must be easily managed by the owner, in public and at home.
In America, ESAs are considered assistance dogs meaning that they have a lot of rights, for example, a flat that prohibits tenants to own pets must make an exception for an ESA. Many people in the UK, are trying to get ESAs recognised legally and also to raise awareness for the help they can provide.
Benefits of Owning an ESA:
They require daily exercise
Dogs, arguably the most common ESA, need to be walked a few times everyday and this can be very beneficial for the owner. Exercise releases endorphins, keeps you physically healthy and raises levels of serotonin (low levels of serotonin are linked to depression). However, no matter how good exercise has been proven to be, people can still be reluctant to give it a go, but with a dog you are forced to take it a walk – and you will be happy to. By fulfilling the dogs needs, you are also taking care of yourself – which you might not do otherwise.
They give you a purpose
Depression can trap you in bed for days, but with a dog you will feel the need to get up and take care of your pet, and you will be greatly rewarded in licks and cuddles. This responsibility will come with a lot of pleasure! If you often feel lonely, an ESA will keep you feeling loved. There is nothing better than coming home from a long day at work, and being greeted by a dog that is ecstatic to see you! A dog’s unconditional love will make you feel wanted, which is advantageous for anyone, but especially for someone with depression.
They are fun!
Suffering from a mental illness can suck all of the fun out of your life, but don’t worry as ESAs can inject lots of laughter and entertainment. Watching an animal play and seeing it react to literally anything can be hysterically funny; this will make you feel happier, even if just for a few minutes! Furthermore, you will become an animal person and spend ages looking at funny cat videos online in-between online shopping for your pet. Seeing your dog play with new toys will fill you with joy, imagine your pet playing with these!
They decrease anxiety
Studies have concluded that dogs decrease anxiety, as well as reductions in the levels of stress hormones and I didn’t struggle to believe that. Before I got my dog, I was experiencing severe anxiety and, without noticing it at first, he completely calmed me down. I was so focused on making sure he was fed, watered and happy that I didn’t have time to over think anything. In addition, the other day I felt extremely anxious and after cuddling my dog for half an hour I felt so much better. My friend’s dog always snuggles up to her if she’s feeling upset which makes her feel loved and as a consequence, much happier.
They promote social interaction
Mental illnesses can be very alienating and ESAs can help to combat the loneliness the sufferer experiences – and not just from constant companionship. Dogs are a great way to meet new people, from puppy training classes, dog meet ups and even people stopping you in the street to ask to pet your dog – you will make a lot of new friends. In addition, everyone loves to come and spend time with an animal, it’s a great reason to invite someone round. I think my house has had around 50 visitors this week as people are desperate to meet the puppy! Having a dog automatically qualifies you as a member of the dog owner community and it opens up a whole new world of activities for you and your dog. If you suffer from social anxiety then a dog will be perfect for you – it will be the introduction to every new conversation if you are out walking it, and people love to talk about dogs. If you aren’t sure what to say then enquire about someone else’s dog, owners love to talk about them. Get your dog a costume like this – it’s guaranteed to be a conversation starter!
In conclusion, I would encourage anyone suffering from a mental illness to get an emotional support animal. Their pure love will lift your spirits and they will be by your side as you continue your recovery. With an endless amount of benefits that stem from owning a pet, the outcome can only be advantageous! I’ve only had Joe for less than a week, and whilst he is hard work, I don’t know how I coped without him before.
I’ve had Joe for a few weeks now and I absolutely love him! Ever since we got him, I have been getting up very early and very quickly – I’m excited to get up and see him – his cuddles kickstart my day in such a positive way. Whenever I feel anxious, his presence distracts and soothes me and I can’t believe I haven’t had a dog all my life. I find myself constantly laughing and smiling at the things he does and for someone that struggles with severe depression, it is amazing. He is the constant light in my life! To anyone struggling with loneliness, depression, or anxiety, etc, I completely recommend an Emotional Support Animal. Puppies definitely help depression; he has reduced my depressive symptoms significantly and there is no harm in trying anything that will help your condition!