*Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 18 seconds
I think we can all agree that there are a LOT of big things happening in the world around us right now. Not only has 2020 brought a sudden health crisis to our doorsteps but this year has also seen a new level of political unrest, economic uncertainty, and intense racial division. That’s just the shortlist. If you’re like me, or anyone of millions across the nation, these events have certainly rattled your emotional stability! Overall, there’s not much we can do about the universal circumstances enveloping our lives but there ARE a few personal, very practical things many have done to help curb the unprecedented stress.
One of the most talked-about 2020 stress management tools has been pet ownership.
Aside from better daily routines, increased FaceTime utilization, and regular meditation, furry friends are high on the recommendation list! You might be thinking, “Uh, hello? During hardship, it seems illogical to invest time and resources in adding onto my family”. I wouldn’t judge this instinctive reaction seeing as it was mine when my kids first brought up the notion. Despite the hesitation, I can say with certainty that the trade-off was well worth it. If you already own an animal (or multiple) you are probably well aware that having a pet is great for mental health. Emotional Support Animals are a proven source of extreme comfort to their human owners on a variety of levels. If you missed our last blog post, click here to learn a bit more!
How exactly can an Emotional Support Animal help?
For starters, certain animals possess intelligence and characteristics that allow them to grow keenly aware of human behavior and emotions. My emotional support dog, Enzo, is wonderful at sensing increased tension in our household and possesses a magical ability to disperse it with a simple belly rub request. This past Spring, the level of tension certainly rose when strange new “6 feet apart” mandates kept us from friends and loved ones. Social distancing complications brought serious concerns about isolation and loneliness creeping into our homes. As a parent, it became especially challenging to help my young kids navigate the big emotions they were suddenly experiencing. I have been amazed at how our fluffy, rough, and tumble pup has made my job so much easier.
Having Enzo has been a tremendous resource in surprising ways! I have watched as our nine-year son struggled to pay attention during his zoom call; that is until our dog nosed his way into the room and rested his sweet face on my son’s lap. Instantaneously, my son fell into a gentle rhythm stroking Enzo’s big old head and sat perfectly still while his teacher finished her lesson. I cannot count the number of days my husband walked out of our home office, ready to toss his phone out the window, only to be greeted by an eager pup with a chew toy rope dangling from his jowls. My husband couldn’t help but laugh and take five minutes to rest his busy mind with some tug-of-war action. The pure responsibility of caring for Enzo has also helped to keep our family routines afloat. Much like a human baby, our fur-baby needs to eat, be walked, groomed, have playtime and nap time! He keeps our minds sharp and our bodies moving when house arrest threatens to bog us down.
Let me remind you that we are not alone!
Did you know that 33% of Americans considered fostering or adopting an animal now that social distancing is the norm, and that 82% of Americans said their dogs and cats help them feel less lonely at this time? According to a recent survey by TD Ameritrade, it’s true! The fact is, non-human counterparts are a great solution to managing mental health and even more so during times of crisis.
Our weary 2020 bodies are on major overload!
Emotional strain isn’t the only health issue this historic time is inflicting on them. Traumatic events can have pretty serious effects on our physical health as well. Even if you are blessed to never face a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, your body can still be experiencing unwanted and threatening symptoms. Some of the most common non-virus-related conditions seen in adults during the COVID-19 pandemic have been headaches, fatigue, increased instances of chest pain, tingling feelings, and higher heart-rate. Changes in diet and exercise are also prevalent with the sudden onset of work-from-home situations. This can affect gut health in some significant ways including possible nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. That’s a lot to digest (no pun intended)!
Children are certainly not immune to the physical conditions of pandemic stress either. Our pediatrician shared that hyperactivity has become a much greater issue in 2020. Adjusting to virtual learning (heck, virtual EVERYTHING) has presented big challenges to developing minds that are not accustomed to being cooped up, staring at electronic devices most of the day. Mind-fog (due to boredom) and decreases in body awareness are also big concerns as children are not allowed to attend their regular school-based programs and extracurricular activities.
All of these problems can seem a bit daunting, but rest assured, solutions are possible.
Studies clearly show that the health benefits Emotional Service Animals can provide include remedies for all the above-mentioned conditions. Caring for an animal has been shown to elevate calming hormones like serotonin which reduces stress. Sharing your life with an animal can also lower blood pressure and (as I mentioned from personal experience) create helpful daily routines that reinforce exercise. The love from and attachment to a pet has been shown to help individuals feel important and secure. Playing with a furry friend can promote a great degree of tranquility and composure which is always beneficial, especially to young bodies/minds. In a time where in-person contact is greatly restricted, hands-on exposure to an Emotional Support Animal provides the perfect sensory stress relief. This one benefit alone has been tremendously helpful for my, normally, very social kids!