For millennia, humans have lived and worked alongside animals like dogs and horses. A relationship with an animal can be much less demanding than getting along well with the people in your life. Non-human animals provide unconditional love without asking for much in exchange. If you’re struggling with your feelings, they can be your most compassionate companion, listening without interrupting or judging.
A growing body of research suggests non-human animals experience many of the same emotions as we do – including grief, love and joy – though they may express them differently. But what do we know about the benefits of emotional support animals?
Interacting With Pets Minimizes Stress and Anxiety Symptoms
Are you searching for a drug-free way to decrease your stress levels and lower your blood pressure? Interacting with animals encourages your brain’s natural release of happiness chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, while reducing the stress hormone cortisol. Taking a dog for a daily walk is also excellent for your physical and mental well-being.
Animals Are Natural Mindfulness Practitioners
When a dog frolics happily in the park or a cat curls up for a nap, they aren’t worrying about things that happened yesterday, or agonizing about what tomorrow may bring. In other words, emotional support animals can provide an ideal demonstration of how to live in the moment.
While mindfulness might not come as easily to you as it does to an animal, it’s still worth pursuing. With practice, you can learn to let go of problems you can’t change, or stop worrying about future events that might never come to pass. Playing with a pet can also distract you from your anxieties and teach you to appreciate what you have.
Caring for an Emotional Support Animal Gives Humans a Sense of Purpose
Mental illnesses such as depression can make you feel hopeless, isolated and unloved. Taking responsibility for another living creature can give you a greater sense of connection to the world. Even animals that require minimal interaction with their keepers can provide this benefit. In one study, researchers asked a group of older adults to look after a cage of pet crickets. After eight weeks, the cricket caretakers demonstrated fewer depression symptoms than the control group members, who were not responsible for taking care of anything.
If you aren’t confident your mental health is stable enough to fulfill the needs of a pet such as a dog or cat, you can still benefit from being around non-human animals. Volunteer at a local homeless pet shelter, or get a lower-maintenance pet such as tropical fish. You might be surprised by how relaxing it is to watch the colorful fish swim around their tank.
Meeting Your Unique Needs
As Tennessee’s first addiction rehab to obtain certification from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Cumberland Heights proudly provides compassionate, customized treatment to people who need help overcoming substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. To learn more about our full continuum of care or how we can benefit you, please contact us today.