Holidays can be a lonely time of year if you don’t have friends or family to celebrate with. Even if you do, the holidays can still be a time of increased stress, anxiety, and sadness. Feelings of overwhelm and a tendency to isolate can also bring on depression. So, what can you do to get through the holiday season? One major way is to get an emotional support animal (ESA). ESAs help loneliness and isolation in many ways, so read on to help learn how you can combat the holiday blues!
What is an ESA?
An emotional support animal is a pet that offers support and companionship to a person living with a mental health issue. These conditions can include a wide range of disorders, including:
- Anxiety disorders (including Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, etc.)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Personality disorders
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
ESAs can often alleviate or eliminate symptoms from these disorders, allowing their owners to find some peace from symptoms that can be quite debilitating. ESAs can be a variety of animals, ranging from more traditional dogs and cats to exotic species such as rabbits, ferrets, hedgehogs, and reptiles. ESAs simply need to be able to provide comfort to their owners in order to qualify. If you already have a pet that you think could function as an ESA, you can get them officially certified (see explanation below).
Can ESAs help with holiday loneliness?
There is a lot of loneliness that can come about because of the holidays. Even though there’s meant to be a spirit of goodwill and cheer, not everyone feels upbeat around this time of year. This can be for so many reasons: you’re not near your loved ones, you’re going through a personal hardship, you’re experiencing increased symptoms, and so on. That’s why it can be so helpful to have an ESA as a companion who provides you with unconditional love and constant support. Your ESA can work to lift your mood and lessen your anxiety just by being present. No matter how difficult the holidays are for you, you can start to feel less lonely with your ESA by your side. The best part is that they can help battle loneliness even after the holidays are over!
Studies have shown that people who own ESAs as pets actually experience numerous other benefits besides having a loving companion. These can include having higher self-esteem, increased feelings of belonging, and a sense of a more meaningful existence. ESAs can help you physically, too; having an ESA at home can reduce your levels of stress-related hormones and increase your levels of oxytocin (a chemical that makes you feel happier).
There was also a study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Science showing that adults who had a deep bond with their pets felt more connected in their personal relationships than people without pets did. By loving your ESA, you can, in turn, create better connections with the people in your life. Stronger emotional connections with people around you can then also help you ward off feelings of loneliness.
Can ESAs help fight depression?
If you’re wondering, “Can ESAs help depression at Christmas?”, the answer is yes! Many people experience signs of depression during the holidays – and it can be even worse due to the general expectation that everyone is cheerful during Christmas time. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s also a chance that you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs during the winter months. This diagnosis can leave you feeling even more down during this time of year.
Owning an ESA, however, can mean that you might feel your spirits lift. Your ESA can also encourage you to isolate less (which occurs often with people with depression), just by getting you outside the house for walks around the neighborhood or runs to the dog park. You might even feel more equipped to handle your depression if your ESA helps you to feel less lonely. Plus, that oxytocin mentioned above means you can feel happier within minutes of playing or cuddling with your ESA. ESAs can also fight depression by giving you something positive to focus on; caring for your ESA can give you a renewed purpose in your life.
How can I get an ESA?
Any pet can become an ESA if you get them certified. To do this, you just need a mental health professional to write a letter stating that your mental health condition requires the need for an ESA. They’ll have to include some information (like their license number, contact info, etc.) in order for the letter to be valid. If you don’t have a professional who can do this for you, you can always head to MooshMe.com, where you can get connected to a professional who can help you complete the process virtually (so you don’t even have to leave your home!). Once you have this letter, you can show it to landlords in order to avoid housing discrimination based on your ESA, as well as airlines to allow your ESA to travel with you in the cabin of the aircraft (which can also be especially helpful for holiday travel plans).
Emotional support animals help the lonely in so many ways the whole year round – but they’re especially valuable during the winter months, when people can be struck by worsened depression and anxiety. If you know that being lonely creates issues for you (especially around the holidays), consider getting an ESA today for increased support.