Animal Companions Enhance Emotional Health

A wagging tail, soft pur, or wet nose are familiar attributes that we use to identify our animal friends. The relationship we have with animals is remarkable and distinct from all others. The bond that we form with our pets has proven to improve emotional and mental health. Animals can provide comfort and support to their owners. Interacting with an animal can invoke feelings of happiness, calmness, or safety which lead to positive attitudes and added encouragement. Individuals with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness can benefit from owning an animal. A pet can help someone remain calm and trigger the relaxation response while they are experiencing anxiety. The simple act of stroking or touching a pet can ease anxiety as well. Depression can cause people to withdraw, whereas an animal can motivate them to get outside and socialize. Owners must find the energy to take care of their pets and this can increase opportunities to exercise. 

Pets have also been shown to lift moods which can lead to a more positive outlook on life. It has been found that a loving relationship with an animal can improve self-doubt by building self-esteem and boosting confidence. Loneliness can bring on emotional distress such as worry and negative thoughts. An animal companion can offer someone much-needed company which can improve mental stability. Animals can also give people a sense of purpose. The emotional benefits associated with owning an animal are unmistakable and astounding.

There are many factors to consider when deciding if an animal is right for you. What is the size of the pet? What does the pet eat? How much exercise does this pet need? How long will the animal live? It is essential to understand what type of animal is the correct fit for you. The temperament of the animal should match the emotional and mental health needs of the owner. Studies have shown that watching a fish swim can create a calming feeling, relieve tension, and lower  pulse rate. Birds provide a great deal of empathy and talking to them can keep you smart and entertained. Guinea pigs have unique personalities and are known for their friendly, playful running and jumping which is fun to interact with and enjoy. Golden retrievers, Maltese poodles, and Yorkshire terriers are good breeds to consider for anxiety support. Whether furry, scaly, or feathered, it is important to find the right animal to support you after research and preparation.

“It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives, and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.” – Josh Grogan, the author of the #1 international bestseller Marley & Me.

Studies show mental and physical health benefits

According to the American Heart Association, people who own a dog have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop heart disease. A physiological response can be triggered when interacting with an animal. Studies have also shown that playing with a dog can increase brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine. Physical contact such as stroking or cuddling an animal can be soothing. Research has also found a decrease in cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Pet owners can engage in activities such as walking their dogs for exercise. The daily act of taking care of a pet can also build routine and structure.

Recent research studies are providing new insight into the connection between people and animals. According to the National Library of Medicine, The power of support from companion animals for people living with mental health problems: a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the evidence, provides data to confirm the ability of animals to support individuals with mental health problems. The results determined that animals were able to provide comfort to their companions and also had the ability to know when the person was in need of support.  

Emotional Support Animals

The impact that animals can have on physical and mental health is unmistakable. Pets can also be used in therapy to help people with anxiety, depression, or loneliness. An emotional support animal (ESA) is used to help a person manage a specific aspect of their disorder that can be debilitating. These animals can offer support and comfort by giving their owners reassurance, love, and protection. Animals can understand the emotional state of someone by noticing their tone of voice, body language, and gestures which they can respond to with affection. An ESA and owner benefit from a relationship where they each depend on one another and exchange love in return.

Here are some ways to determine if an ESA can help you:

  1. Identify your emotional health needs. Understanding the signs and symptoms of mental health problems may require help from a mental heath professional.
  2. Visit a mental health physician that can take your history and discuss the symptoms you are experiencing to determine the prognosis. There are often tests that are necessary to understand your condition. 
  3. Formulating a treatment plan based on the results of the tests may lead the physician to recommend an ESA which can become a part of your new goals and can help you progress in the future.

Pets can provide emotional enrichment to our lives

Animals demonstrate a remarkable potential to influence us and offer valuable support. Their simple presence can be calming and relaxing to someone who is anxious or stressed. The ability of an animal to understand their owner and show them compassion cannot compare to that of another person. The solitude that accompanies depression and loneliness can be shared with the comfort and company of an animal companion. A pet can easily bring a smile to your face or inspire you to get outside for a walk. These small acts can have a tremendous impact on days when we feel our problems adding up. Our pets can bring meaningful memories and encourage a more positive attitude to our often unpredictable lives time and time again.

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