Owning an emotional support animal (ESA), or even just a pet in general, can do so many positive things for your spirit. Having a constant companion means you have a steady source of love and affection, plus the responsibility of caring for another being. While having an ESA can help reduce many mental health symptoms, researchers are finding more and more ways that emotional support animals can actually help improve your physical health as well.
There are many mental health conditions that ESAs can help with, including everything from depression and anxiety to panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People have reported feeling less intense sadness and hopelessness once they have an emotional support animal in their life. Additionally, an ESA can help with anxiety by calming the owner (either through the comfort of physical contact or just by providing a calm presence). Individuals with depression also tend to isolate and steer clear of social interactions. An ESA (especially a dog) can help remedy this by forcing the person to go on walks and get physical exercise outside the home. Sometimes, emotional support animals just provide people with excuses to be out in the world (even if it’s just for a trip to the vet or the groomers).
While all of these emotional benefits are great, there are many ways emotional support animals can help their owner live a longer, healthier life too. People with mental illness often struggle with increased levels of stress. Owning a pet can actually reduce the levels of stress-related hormones (like cortisol) in your body. You can even feel the effects rather quickly. A person can start to feel less stressed in as little as 5–24 minutes of playing with their pet. Additional research notes that petting or playing with your pet can release oxytocin (also known as the “cuddle chemical” or “love hormone”). More oxytocin in our systems makes us feel happier – a great benefit for someone suffering from a mental illness.
Another common component of mental illness is dealing with sleep issues (such as insomnia). If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, it can be beneficial to have an emotional support animal at your side to help you feel calmer and more secure. If you suffer from insomnia due to anxiety, an ESA can help you create a nightly routine to help soothe your symptoms. This can include taking your ESA for a short walk, curling up with them while you watch TV etc., so that your brain can be distracted from any worries that might be cropping up. At the end of your routine, you and your ESA should feel ready to hit the hay. Additionally, sleeping with your emotional support animal might help you feel safer at night so that you’re able to sleep more soundly. An improvement in sleep patterns can make a huge difference in your mental health symptoms. Being more well-rested means you can cope better and face your daily struggles more effectively.
Having an ESA can actually help lower your risk of illness as well. Because studies have shown that pets can decrease stress hormones (as mentioned above) and inflammation, they can offer you a decreased risk of developing serious conditions like cardiac problems, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. Some research thinks this phenomenon is linked to loneliness – people with pets don’t experience the same isolation as non-pet owners, which allows for the decrease in stress hormones. In the same vein, having an emotional support animal can help lower your blood pressure (which also helps prevent a whole host of diseases).
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) note that pets can help control your blood pressure, as well as decrease your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Higher levels of these can lead to cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes. Let’s say you have suffered one of these events: having an ESA at home while you recover means your likelihood of survival increases. Many people who experience chronic pain also report having lower pain levels if they had the opportunity to interact with an animal. Less pain means a person can have better odds of recovery and the chance to feel better more quickly. A reduction in pain also has the potential to help with symptoms of depression.
Emotional support animals can also help you live longer because they can encourage you to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle. Having an ESA dog can encourage you to go on daily walks or hikes, or you can take them to run around the dog park. Even just playing fetch with your ESA dog can get you moving more. Research has shown that being more physically active can result in lower body mass indexes and fewer visits to the doctor. Since exercise can also help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, you have plenty of reasons to get moving with your ESA. They’ll also benefit from getting time to run around, so both of you will have more energy in the long-term. Plus, having an emotional support animal means you’ll always have a buddy to work out with.
Having an ESA in your life can bring you so many positive things. With their help, you can improve both your physical and mental wellbeing!