We’ve only begun to scratch the surface regarding the relationship between us and other animals, but it’s already clear that they can profoundly affect our mental health. While dogs are often the emotional support animal (ESA) of choice, in reality, all kinds of domesticated animals can fall into this category.
What is an Emotional Support Animal?
While any animal can provide support, an emotional support animal needs to be classed as such by a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. A trained medical professional must prescribe these pets to a person experiencing a disabling mental illness – and only then can the patient apply for an ESA letter – included here in our emotional support animal guide.
It’s important to stress the difference between service dogs, who typically work with those suffering from disabilities, and ESAs, who act in a comforting or therapeutic capacity. It may sound like a slight difference, but legally they are two very different animals.
Importance of Emotional Support Animals
Addressing the Emotional and Psychological Needs
Living with emotional or psychological disabilities can be challenging, impacting various aspects of an individual’s daily life. These conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, can often disrupt one’s emotional well-being and overall functioning. While traditional therapies and medications play a crucial role in treatment, they may not always provide sufficient support to manage the complex emotional and psychological needs of individuals.
Alleviating Symptoms and Promoting Stability
Emotional support animals (ESAs) have proven to be valuable companions for individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities. These animals offer a unique form of support that goes beyond conventional methods. Interacting with an ESA has been found to have numerous therapeutic benefits. The presence of an ESA can help alleviate symptoms and promote emotional stability in several ways:
- Emotional Regulation: ESAs provide a constant source of comfort and emotional support. The act of petting or cuddling an ESA releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. This can help reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol, and promote a sense of calm and relaxation.
- Improved Mood and Decreased Feelings of Loneliness: Living with emotional or psychological disabilities can often lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. The companionship of an ESA can help mitigate these feelings by providing unconditional love, companionship, and a sense of belonging. The presence of an ESA can lift spirits, improve overall mood, and combat the negative effects of social isolation.
- Anxiety and Stress Reduction: Individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities frequently experience heightened levels of anxiety and stress. ESAs can offer a calming influence and help individuals cope with anxious or stressful situations. The soothing presence of an ESA can provide a sense of security and serve as a distraction from distressing thoughts or triggers.
Providing a Sense of Security and Safety
For individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities, feelings of fear, vulnerability, and insecurity can be particularly challenging to navigate. ESAs play a vital role in providing a sense of security and safety:
- Anxiety and Panic Disorders: ESAs can offer reassurance and a calming presence during anxiety or panic attacks. Their presence can help individuals feel grounded, providing a sense of stability and preventing further escalation of symptoms.
- PTSD Support: Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and hyperarousal. ESAs can help create a safe environment and offer a sense of security, mitigating the impact of triggers and providing comfort during distressing episodes.
- Emotional Comfort: ESAs offer unconditional love and acceptance, creating a safe emotional space for individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities. Their consistent presence and unwavering support can provide a reliable source of comfort and stability in the face of emotional challenges.
Who Can Get an Emotional Support Animal?
Researchers have found that ESAs can remarkably affect the human psyche. People suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health illnesses typically qualify for an ESA – though this needs certification by a doctor. However, we should highlight that rules, regulations, and benefits differ from state to state, so it’s essential to research the process well before you begin.
During your interview with your doctor or therapist, you will need to prove that an ESA would improve your existing condition. This might sound intimidating, but it’s very straightforward. Let’s go over the process below.
What is the Process?
While states vary, most share the same basic process for applying to be an emotional support animal owner. Once you have a prescription from a doctor or therapist, you can apply for an ESA letter, which should be in an official formality. After receiving your letter, you can consider your pet a bonafide ESA.
What Benefits Do I Get?
After receiving your ESA letter, you can begin to enjoy its benefits, such as certain housing rights, fee waivers, employment rights, and the right to take your animals into most public places. Again, we have to stress the varying differences from state to state. What you are legally guaranteed in Washington isn’t necessarily what you will see in Texas.
As of March 2021, new aviation guidelines have seriously curbed ESAs on flights. Some airlines charge an extra fee, while others now insist on all animals flying in cargo. Before booking any flight, make sure you understand the rules around flying with an ESA so it doesn’t come as a shock at the airport.
Here are some of the other benefits you can expect:
- Emotional and Psychological Support
ESAs provide constant emotional support, serving as a source of comfort, companionship, and unconditional love.
- Stress and Anxiety Reduction
The calming presence of an ESA can help reduce stress and anxiety levels in individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities.
- Improved Social Interactions
- Routine and Responsibility
Caring for an ESA involves establishing and maintaining a daily routine, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with emotional or psychological disabilities.
- Increased Physical Activity
ESAs, especially dogs, require regular exercise, prompting ESA owners to engage in physical activities such as walking or playing.
- Enhanced Emotional Resilience
The bond formed with an ESA can strengthen an individual’s emotional resilience and coping mechanisms.
The Final Word
Humans generally experience a feeling of great calm when around certain creatures. With more and more research focusing on the mental health benefits of ESAs, their numbers will only go up with time. Next time you feel low, spend a few minutes petting a dog and looking into its eyes; you’ll quickly see what we mean.