Can Pets Help With Anxiety?
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Life brings on a multitude of feelings. Happiness from good remarks at work, excitement over a new baby, or joy from sweet puppy kisses and cuddly kittens. However, with these wonderful emotions, life also brings complications. Unexpected bills come up, crowded birthday parties are inevitable, and sudden changes in life can spur one negative feeling: anxiety. Affecting more than 264 million individuals worldwide and nearly one in five American adults each year, anxiety is one of the leading mental health disorders in the world.
What Is Anxiety?
Experiencing anxiety from time to time is expected in the average day-to-day life. However, anxiety disorders are more than fleeting feelings of worry or stress. People who struggle with an anxiety disorder undergo persistent feelings of anxiety. These feelings do not go away and generally worsen as time passes when left untreated.
Without seeking proper guidance and care, anxiety can lead to more severe health concerns. These may include depression, substance use disorders (SUDs), chronic illness, and suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Anxiety comes in many forms which varying symptoms, which are as follows:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): An anxiety disorder involving recurring anxiety and excessive worry or stress. Additionally, feelings of being tense and on edge occur even when stressful situations do not arise.
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia): An anxiety disorder involving overwhelming anxiety and extreme self-consciousness when encountering social situations. It can be triggered by just one specific kind of event or multiple. In more severe cases, it may be triggered by simply being around other people at any time.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): An anxiety disorder involving recurrent, unwanted thoughts or obsessions. It may also include repetitive behaviors, which are referred to as compulsions. These compulsions may consist of repetitive hand washing, counting, or cleaning. Compulsions are completed to alleviate the persistent and unwanted obsessions. However, this only allows temporary relief.
In addition to the above disorders, the following are also recognized as anxiety disorders
- Panic disorder: An anxiety disorder characterized by sudden and recurring episodes of intense fear. These are often paired with physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): An anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event involving severe physical harm or danger. These events may include physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, serious car accidents, or military-related combat.
Pets and Anxiety
Studies have shown that pets can significantly assist in the treatment and management of any anxiety disorder that an individual may face. Those fuzzy paws and goofy grins bring so much unconditional love and joy. How could they not help you with the challenges of anxiety? The mental health benefits of having a pet have been so effective that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) recognized emotional support animals (ESA) and service animals in 2010.
As defined by the ADA, a service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. These may include a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Service animals are generally allowed in most public places and stores.
Emotional Support Animals (ESAs)
Also referred to as “comfort animals,” the ADA states these pets are often used as part of a medical treatment plan as therapy animals. However, they are not considered service animals under the ADA. As a result, their public access rights differ significantly.
How Can Pets Help With Anxiety?
In 2020, an estimated 70% of households in the United States had one or more pets. Besides lots of cuddly kisses and unlimited, unconditional love, pets provide a plethora of emotional support and service to their handlers and family members. This kind of care is something that these pets naturally give without ever being asked.
Some of the many benefits that pets provide include:
- Increased physical activity: Pet owners are far more likely to be active in order to keep their fur-family members happy. Whether taking the dog for a walk or playing with an energetic kitten, increased exercise is an excellent benefit to managing anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins in the body, which result in better moods and positive feelings.
- Self-esteem boost: The love and support provided by pets result in a significant boost to overall confidence, which can help reduce anxiety symptoms.
- Routine building: Having a pet requires specific responsibilities that ultimately create a routine for the day. A structure can help lessen anxiety.
- Ease loneliness: The companionship found with beloved pets ensures that individuals have a loved one to come home to every day and wake up to every morning. This can help people feel less lonely and have a sense of belonging.
With all of these benefits, a common theme persists – less anxiety.
Treatment or Pets?
Individuals can have both! When pairing the emotional support of a loved fur family with proper treatment, people end up with an even more well-rounded management plan for anxiety. Joining an all-encompassing anxiety treatment program can help individuals successfully control the anxiety that has been trying to control them.
A therapist can help individuals find the right medication to stay on top of their anxiety. They can also help individuals come up with more enjoyable tasks that include pets to combat anxiety. By combining treatment with the many benefits that pets provide, people can achieve brighter, better days for a joyful future to come.
Facing anxiety can make you miss the things you love the most. It can complicate your life and hold your happiness away from you. You deserve more than that. At Alter Behavioral Health, we care about you and your well-being. We understand the challenges that come with anxiety, and we want nothing more than to help you overcome these difficulties to find peace once more. You don’t have to let anxiety control you. You can control it instead. Let us help you achieve your goals and show you what life can really be. Call Alter Behavioral Health today at (866) 691-4386 for the next steps in reaching an anxiety-free life.