Emotional support animals are more than just pets; they offer support and connection through their companionship and can soothe emotions and upsets often associated with anxiety. Having an emotional support animal has allowed many anxiety-sufferers the opportunity to relax and enjoy everyday life more.
But what does a typical day look like for someone living with an anxiety disorder?
Good Morning Sunshine!
Mornings can be daunting to anyone. After all, the snooze button is oh-so-enticing when that obnoxious alarm sound interrupts peaceful slumber! Alas, adulting requires us to “adult,” and we must ignore the call of that extra 5 minutes. For an anxious person, this moment is not just about the interruption of sleep. The morning alarm can trigger a whole series of panic-driven thoughts that rush in like a title wave before the day has even begun. Fight or flight is in full throttle, telling the mind and body to prepare for danger. Talk about being exhausted before a foot has even hit the ground! Thankfully, there is a way to help you cope with anxiety in the everyday parts of life.
Enter… Emotional Support Animal (ESA).
An ESA companion can make mornings much brighter! Who wouldn’t want to wake up to kisses, cuddles, and a reminder to smile? Having a reason to get out of bed in the morning to feed, snuggle or play with an animal companion is a fantastic motivator. It helps draw attention away from anxious thinking and shifts the focus to positivity and contentment. Instead of starting the day with cortisol (stress hormone), an ESA’s presence can help release happy hormones, like oxytocin, into the brain.
An Emotional Support Animal can even be a part of your morning routine. Brush your teeth, then brush your pups. Comb your hair. Then give your floofy pal a little brush too. Routines and rituals play a significant role in health and wellness. Even on the dreariest of days, a pattern can get a person up and at ’em out of habit alone. It also removes ambiguity, which can be a massive trigger for someone struggling with anxiety. There is no mystery or decision making needed. Get up, make the bed, take the pup for a walk, and so on.
The Daily Grind
Going to work looks so different these days, and for a lot of us, that means staying at home. While this news is comforting to some, it doesn’t mean the workday won’t be stressful—this sort of goes along with the whole routine conversation we just had. Working from home comes with an entirely new set of challenges. Staying focused when there is a sink full of dishes, loud cars driving by, or a laundry list of at-home to-dos is a job in and of itself. (pun wasn’t intended, but I think we can all agree that the never-ending laundry pile is giving us all the stink eye from across the room) This is the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness and focus. Spending a few minutes breathing and petting your ESA pal. Decide where you will set your intentions and focus for the next few hours. The laundry isn’t going anywhere…I promise.
While PJ wearing is the latest trend, it might be a good idea to consider getting at least sort of ready. Ya know, like showering and putting actual clothes on. I’m not saying to go all Hollywood, but pick out an outfit that sparks joy (Marie Kondo style), brush your hair and wash your face. You’d be amazed how a little TLC can boost one’s mood.
Most importantly, remember you are not alone! There is no place your Emotional Support Animal would rather be than with you. Having him at your feet or on your lap can make the workday downright enjoyable for all parties. Zoom calls have a way of quickly boosting anxiety. The presence of your pup can help lower your heart rate and let you relax, despite having to invite people into your space via video conferencing. Then you can both laugh together when a lawyer forgets to remove the cat filter for the meeting.
A great advantage of having an at-home office is taking short breaks throughout the day to breathe and recenter. A few snuggles or a short walk with your ESA can be just the thing to re-energize you and keep your headspace focused and calm. This helps to remove some of the “loom” from the looming deadline weighing you down.
At this point, quarantine and pandemic life has felt like an eternity. Though it’s easier to stay home and have as much as you can show up at your door, it is still good to get out and about once in a while. For some, the thought of leaving the house can trigger symptoms of anxiety. The longer you stay home, the more intense these feelings can get. Thankfully, an ESA can help with that too.
Having an Emotional Support Animal in the car with you while you’re driving can be calming. Many ESA owners have reported that they enjoy conversations with their emotional companion, even though (or especially because) they can’t talk back. No judgment, unsolicited advice, or complaints about your playlist. Just two friends getting out and enjoying a drive together.
Fido can also give you the courage you need to get out of the car once you reach your destination. His excitement about exploring and smelling all the smells can be contagious! Nowadays, countless places are pet-friendly. Bring Fido is a great resource to discover dog-friendly places around your area.
(See what I did there?) Studies have shown that being social can play a prominent role in physical and mental health so getting out regularly is a must. Dinner time is an excellent opportunity to get together with family or friends. However, eating out in public can be a daunting affair these days. Even with limited capacities and distancing at most places, being in social situations can trigger anxiousness. Mix a dang virus with already existing social anxiety, and you’ve got quite the cocktail. With an ESA by your side or in your arms, social activities don’t have to be avoided. Research has shown that holding or petting an animal helps people feel more relaxed and less anxious. It can also normalize heart rate and blood pressure. Use your newfound search tool for places that allow pets and enjoy a nice dinner and socialization where everyone is welcome. Even in colder months, restaurants have powerful heaters that make dining outdoors quite enjoyable.
The grocery store can be an overwhelming experience for someone with anxiety. The aisles and aisles of products, the noise of music and announcements blaring overhead, and the hundreds of signs vying for your attention can be a lot to take in. Having a good list and a well-behaved ESA by your side (or in the cart) can reduce stress during the shopping experience. Your companion’s mere presence helps keep the focus more on the list and less on the overwhelming input coming at you from every direction. While there are many types of dog-friendly stores across America, it may be challenging to find grocery stores that allow your pet to accompany you.
One benefit of the recent events is that many stores have upped their game in the online ordering arena. So many places now offer free curbside pick up, or delivery. I’ve even called store managers explaining my situation and they’ve set up curbside for me. Local businesses want your support, and if they can help make your life easier while gaining your customer loyalty, they likely will. It’s amazing how far a little kindness can go. You don’t know if you don’t ask.
Regular exercise can be beneficial for mental health and anxiety management. Studies have shown that it can increase self-confidence, improve mood, and even cause a relaxed feeling. Walking daily is a favorite for many and an easy and accessible way to get your body moving.
Okay fine, you may have already known that working out is good for you, but did you know that doing it outside is even better. Being in nature, especially exercising in nature, has been found to ease a slew of mental health conditions, including anxiety. Any vitamin D is helpful, but many studies have shown that being in the forest (versus being in a city) is associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods. According to some reviews rounded up by Business Insider, green environments can also improve self-esteem, and if there’s water around, it can make the effects even stronger.
The necessity of caring for a dog is a great motivator for getting outside and going on walks regularly, so they make excellent ESAs. What better motivation to get up and go for a walk outside than a wet-nosed, floofy floof that gets excited at the very sight of the leash? Every walk is basically Christmas morning in the eyes of your dog, unless it’s snowing. Even then, walk around the house together. Maybe a fun game of hide and seek or a dance paw-ty. Just get that body moving!
At the end of a long day, cozy sheets in a warm bed can be one of the most inviting places on the planet, unless it’s not. For some, going to bed invites a unique nighttime anxiety. It signals that another morning is on the way, with another set of challenges waiting on the other side of the sunrise. The only way to prevent everything that could, should, and might happen is to lie in bed, focusing on it for at least the next four hours. Emotional Support Animals can play a large role in calming an anxious person down, which results in a good night’s sleep. Rest assured that an ESA will offer endless cuddles, serve as your heating pad or living weighted blanket, and wake up with you ready to face the next day together.
While traveling is not in the typical day of many people lately, it’s worth noting that ESA’s can be invaluable to anyone coping with anxiety during travel. Not only can your furry friend be a constant in an ever-changing scenery, but he can also give you the support you need to be able to fly, ride or drive long distances. The rules for ESAs on airlines are currently changing, and you can find updated info here.
I will call him Fluffy, and he will be mine. He will be my Fluffy.
It boils down to a perfect pairing of two creatures requiring attention and love: animals and humans. When you have an animal companion offering physical affection and attention, it provides an unconditional love every human craves. Taking care of your ESA will help you feel more independent and needed, inevitably putting the focus on Fluffy’s needs and drawing it away from anxiety-causing situations. An Emotional Support Animal can offer you the comfort you need, the ability to cope with overwhelming situations, a friend that will never judge you, and always want more pets.
So you’ve walked a few miles in the day of a typical ESA, congrats on making it through! But now you’re left wondering – is this something that could benefit me? You can take our QUIZ HERE to determine if you may qualify for an Emotional Support Animal.
Already know you’re ready to welcome your new friend into the fold?
Where on earth do you find an Emotional Support Animal? Here’s somewhere to start!
Mackay J, James G&N. The effect of “green exercise” on state anxiety and the role of exercise duration, intensity, and greenness: A quasi-experimental study. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2010;11:238-245. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2010.01.002.