I don’t know what I would do without my emotional support dog. For a while, I hesitated to mention that he is an emotional support animal (ESA) due to misconceptions and stigma. However, I want to sing his praises because others could benefit from ESAs too.
ESAs offer a host of benefits for people suffering from various disorders. If you have a medical condition, and your therapist thinks you could qualify, an ESA could improve your life significantly. Here are nine ways my dog improved my life, and how similar pooches could better yours, too.
1. He Gives My Life More Purpose
In recent years, suicide rates have increased substantially due to various factors. I’ll spare you the details of my despair. I will, however, say that caring for my dog has held me back from the edge more than once. Without me, who will take care of him? The thought of my magnificent best friend ending up in a shelter gives me the strength to carry on even during my roughest patches.
If you feel a similar sense of despair, do reach out for help. If you experience a crisis, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a trained volunteer who can help. If you suffer from ideation often, a furry friend might help renew your sense of purpose.
2. He Helps Me Feel Less Lonely
Many people who have mental disorders become introverted. They hesitate to speak with others because of the stigma surrounding their condition, and they fear people asking probing questions that they don’t wish to answer.
ESAs spur conversations with strangers during walks and animal training sessions. They also provide fodder for these conversations besides your troubles. You don’t even have to take the reins — folks will often approach you if they want to pet your pal.
3. He Eases My Fear of Flying
I don’t like to fly — it symbolizes a loss of control that triggers my PTSD symptoms. However, I recently completed a cross-continental flight with my dog in tow.
If you have a similar fear of flying, your ESA letter enables you to fly with your buddy, although certain restrictions do apply. For example, the airline can put the ixnay on a pig or goat if they’re too large or misbehaved to travel in the cabin. Make sure you train your pal well — animals that create distractions or danger can result in removal from the flight and potential fines.
4. He Helps Me Exercise
Exercise is one of the best medicines for mild to moderate depression, but many people with the disorder struggle to muster the energy to get started. However, no matter how you feel, your furry friend needs their walk. Maybe you won’t ever run a marathon with your mutt, but you’ll increase your workout quotient merely by playing with your ESA.
5. He Helps Me Process My Emotions
Do you know what’s refreshing about talking to your ESA? They never judge or condemn you. Thus, they make ideal therapists because you can vent about any emotion, free from the fear of reprisal. Focus on speaking positive affirmations as often as you voice complaints. You don’t want to get caught in a negativity spiral of rumination.
6. He Increases My Motivation
When you have depression, you might feel like nothing you do makes a difference, anyway, so why bother? However, dogs react with such enthusiasm for anything — from a car ride to a tiny cube of kibble — that it’s infectious. Your ESA can give you a reason to smile, and that can spur you to make other positive changes in your life, including reaching for your goals.
7. He Makes Me Feel Safer
Because my PTSD stems from a highly unpleasant circumstance, I jump at shadows often. I have an exaggerated startle response due to a traumatic event. However, my ESA helps to assuage my fears. He’s even helped me sleep more soundly at night, even when I was living alone.
8. He Has Fewer Side Effects Than Medication
Are you one of the many patients with depression who experiences unpleasant side effects, like weight gain, from your medication? ESAs come with no warning label because you won’t have any adverse reactions. You should always check with your doctor before reducing your dosage, but you may discover that your need for psychiatric medication decreases once you adopt a supportive pal.
9. He Offers Unconditional Love
When you have a mental disease, you can feel like no one truly understands you — or cares to do so. When you have an ESA, they greet you with such love and so many kisses, the tension of the roughest day dissipates. There’s nothing like unconditional love to make you feel a renewed sense of self-worth.
I know I couldn’t live without my dog. If you think you could benefit from an ESA, I can say wholeheartedly that it’s definitely worth looking into!