Though we’ve all heard people say “I panicked!” when talking about losing their car keys or being confronted by the boss, true panic disorder is much more debilitating than momentary misgiving or fright. People with panic disorder are usually doing something normal and mundane, like parking in the driveway or cooking dinner, when they’re suddenly gripped by a paralyzing fear that seems to have no cause. Can service animals help someone with this serious mental health challenge?

The answer is yes. By obtaining an emotional support animal letter, individuals with panic disorder can keep an approved pet with them at all times, which could lead to fewer panic attacks.

Although the suddenness of a panic attack leads most sufferers to believe there’s no trigger, mental health professionals have come to understand that panic attacks actually do have causes. While the underlying signs of an impending attack can be almost impossible for a sufferer to identify without treatment, stress has been recognized as a contributing factor.

It’s not the big things on the perennial “top 5 stressors” lists, though, that trigger panic attacks. In a study published in Science Daily, researchers found that individuals with panic disorder usually don’t suffer an attack right after a big, recognizably stressful event — a car accident, for example. Instead, their stress starts to build up from that date and continues to do so from the everyday frustrations and fears everyone encounters — until a panic attack occurs, sometimes days, weeks or even months later.

This is where an emotional support dog or cat may dramatically improve a sufferer’s chances of avoiding a panic attack. Service animals help their owners keep day to day stress levels down by being a source of comfort, companionship and distraction.

Sometimes, people with a panic disorder become so fearful of having an attack that they develop agoraphobia. This is a strong fear of being caught somewhere they can’t easily get out of. Having a support dog at our side can give us the sense of security we need to live our lives more easily.

If you suffer from panic disorder, consider contacting a service animal registry to have your pet designated as an emotional support animal.