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Emotional Support Animals: Are They Right for You?

August 18th and 19th of 2018 are Chicago’s Clear the Shelters Days. Many shelters in the Chicagoland area will be adopting out pets free of charge. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) have become increasingly popular over the last few years. They are fundamentally different from service animals, as they require no additional training to qualify. Their main purpose is to help those with mental illnesses overcome or cope with their specific struggles in life just by providing comfort. There are several different ways in which an ESA can be helpful on a day to day basis.

Interacting with an ESA can have great effects on the neurotransmitters in your brain. They increase dopamine and other compounds that are linked to feelings of love and attachment. Just by looking into your pet’s eyes, you can stimulate those neurotransmitters and possibly even alleviate symptoms of depression and loneliness. They are also great at reducing anxiety, especially during travel or on airplanes. It is always comforting to have a kindred spirit to focus on instead of the situation at hand, especially when that particular situation can trigger intense bouts of anxiety. Furthermore, the unconditional love that one experiences with their ESA can often surpass connections formed with other people. It can be a lot easier for some people to connect with animals rather than human beings, so this can be a great tool for those with feelings of social anxiety or awkwardness. It should be noted that this doesn’t mean that people will form bonds with animals only, but that it can be a great stepping stone for those trying to establish better relationships with others.

Having an ESA can also be beneficial to other forms of treatment you may be seeking or have already sought. Many therapists, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals are able to integrate an ESA into certain kinds of treatment, most notably Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). That is not to say that they cannot also be integrated into other forms of therapy; they can be helpful tools in pretty much any kind of mental health treatment when used correctly.

ESAs are great at helping to calm bouts of intense emotion. Having a constant friend around whose behavior is fairly consistent (neutral but also loyal) can be a great way to divert attention from negative emotions that one may feel. Because the animal is not depressed, angry, anxious, etc., one may be able to focus on the animal to reset their current state of mind. There may also be a physical benefit to having an ESA as well. A study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the bond created between humans and animals can actually improve things like cardiovascular health, endocrine functions, and the immune system.

Please be careful when trying to obtain ESA status for your pet – the only people who can make his/her status official are psychiatrists and other licensed health professionals. Just wearing a vest unfortunately does not provide your animal with any legal protection; there needs to be an accompanying letter to validate the ESA’s function.

Is an Emotional Support Animal right for you? Call Main St. Psychiatry today to explore your options!

For more information, please see https://www.bustle.com/p/how-do-emotional-support-animals-help-people-7-benefits-of-esas-9002611

Interested in adopting a pet on Clear the Shelters Day? Please visit https://www.cleartheshelters.com/ to find a participating shelter near you!