How Animals Help Relieve Anxiety

Animals Help AnxietyAs it turns out, man’s best friend is also man’s best chance at some relaxation.  While the calming teas and naps may not always reduce your stress and anxiety, sitting down with an animal for a little while just might do the trick.

As a pet owner, I can confidently say that being around my little Maltese-Shi-Tzu instantly makes me feel better.  She plops down on my lap and relishes the belly rubs she greedily accepts from me.  It’s as if every stress-inducing nuisance that is clouding my thoughts melts away when I’m running my hand back and forth through her fur.  But why does this happen?

Andrew Lee, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, said, “Spending some time petting an animal can reduce some anxiety; it can lower heart rate and lower blood pressure.”  So if you think you’re imagining the effects your furry friend has on your mental well-being, you’re not. 

There have even been studies that show the benefits of animal assisted therapies.  In the case of an older patient, these studies have been proven to aid in the improvement of cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, according to Everyday Health.

From the eyes of a student who struggles with mental health, animals are more than just a pet to senior psychology student, Andrea Castro.  Her dog, Luna, provides her with the emotional support she needs while dealing with depression and anxiety.  “Whenever I get anxious or I am going through a depressive stage, I hug her and she licks my face and even if it is just for a few minutes, I am happy and calm,” said Castro. 

“Small gestures like licking my face or cuddling up next to me in bed mean the world to me. They are gestures that show unconditional love, and those are reminders that I need when I am at my lowest,” Castro added.

Even people who don’t have a pet of their own understand the mental benefits of animals.  GraceAnn McCann, a senior business finance student, lives with anxiety.  Though she doesn’t have an animal of her own, she explained the feeling that animal encounters have given her in the past. 

“There’s something about having a living, breathing, cuddly pup on my lap that calms me down and takes my mind off the normal stresses of life,” said McCann.  For this reason, McCann hopes to adopt a dog of her own in the future. 

There is more to an animal’s ability to provide emotional relief than just cuddling, though I suppose we can all agree that’s by far the coziest part.  When in ownership of animals, the care given to them doubles as a distraction from the normal stresses of life. 

For instance, when your dog needs to be taken out for a walk, it also contributes to your intake of fresh air, as well as exercise.  Using a laser pointer while playing with your cat can induce a bit of laughter, which is, after all, the best medicine.   

Some people need constant support from their furry friend, which is why they register them as an official emotional support animal.  With the official certification, people are able to bring their animal out in public to places where normal domesticated pets may not be allowed to go.  Documentation needs to be completed by outside providers, such as a psychologist, in order to justify the need for the animal and how they would be beneficial. 

Though having an emotional support animal does do wonders for certain individuals, others have developed a stigma against the need for such services.  While having a physical disability does not make people think twice about the need for a service animal, such as being blind requiring a seeing eye dog, the stigma behind mental health makes some question the concept of emotional support animals. 

“I think particularly for emotional support animals, it’s different than service animals because service animals have a very defined and clear purpose. Whereas with an emotional support animal, it’s a little bit more difficult,” said Lee.

Whether you suffer from diagnosed anxiety or depression ,or you’re just having a stressful week, the University provides students with the opportunity to interact with animals for emotional support.  The Destress Fest is typically held on Reading Day during finals week, and seeing eye dogs in training are brought on campus for socialization and cuddles.  There are also many other events year-round that bring animals to campus. 

If ever there was the perfect excuse to spend more time with your animals, this is it.  Take it and run, Monmouth. I know I am.

PHOTO COURTESY of Samantha Rivas