When you have an anxiety disorder, even the simplest of tasks can seem insurmountable. Simple worries and concerns are seemingly blown out of proportion to the outside world, but seem like a genuine issue where it matters– in your mind. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in the United States, with 18.1% of the population being affected each year. However, of the 40 million adults diagnosed, only 39% pursue treatment. For those that are hesitant to pursue traditional treatment methods, or those needing extra support in addition to their current treatment plan, an ESA dog could be the missing piece to the mental wellness puzzle.
What is an ESA?
ESA stands for “Emotional Support Animal” which is self-explanatory: it is an animal that provides comfort and support when needed. Animals often tend to be more in tune with our emotions than our human peers. Their ability to provide a non-judgemental source of unconditional love and affection make animals a strong source of support for those facing mental illness.
It’s a Dog’s Life
While most animals can be a form of emotional support, dogs truly live up to their title of “man’s best friend”. A study conducted on dog owners found that the owners felt increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem, and overall well-being as pet parents. In another study comparing dog owners to people without pets, 63% of dog owners indicated joy and satisfaction in their careers while only 44% of pet-free individuals indicated the same.
In addition to being supportive emotionally, caring for a dog can help one in other ways. Whether or not you’re having a bad day, your dog will be ready to go for a walk. The increased exercise levels can not only improve your physical health, but your mental health as well through the release of endorphins.
How Dogs Relieve Anxiety
Unconditional, judgment-free love and acceptance in addition to increased movement are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the perks of dog ownership. When you are experiencing an enhanced feeling of anxiety, you can talk to your dog about your feelings and work through them, without concern that your dog will tell his friends. Activities with your dog, such as grooming or playing, can become a way to calm yourself and stay grounded. Sometimes, the very act of having another living thing for company when you feel alone is enough to get you through the bad days.
The Legalities of Having an ESA
The laws governing emotional support animals are very loosely defined. Generally speaking, anyone who has suffered from a mental illness or other extreme stressors– such as the death of a loved one or chronic physical illness– are eligible for an ESA. You can either register your current dog as an emotional support animal or get a dog for this purpose. If you go the latter route, consider choosing a rescue animal who also needs extra love and care.
To register your emotional service animal, you will need a letter from your doctor or therapist recommending this additional support for your current ailment or situation. Having a registered ESA will put your condition on record and provide you with a letter to present as proof if anyone questions your authenticity. After being registered as an ESA, your dog will be allowed to live with you in places where there are “No Pet” policies in place and accompany you on airplanes. Unlike service animals, your dog will not be allowed in public buildings, such as restaurants and stores.
If you are an animal lover or feel that a furry companion will offer you much-needed support for your anxiety disorder, getting an emotional support animal could be the right choice for you!