Finding Emotional Support...In Animals?
Last updated: May 2019
Did you know that replacing an anxiety-filled activity with a calming activity literally changes the way your brain cells connect and respond with each other? That means you can actually heal your own anxiety. I learned that in therapy and I’ve seen it work in my own home. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve learned a lot in therapy. Honestly, I believe that everyone would benefit from going. Who doesn’t need someone on their team to listen and help navigate whatever struggles they encounter along their journey? Going has taught me so much.
Retrain the brain
If, for example, your child has school anxiety and is anxious at bedtime each night worrying about the next day, then the process of going to bed could be considered an anxiety-filled activity for that child. If you replace that uncomfortable activity with a happier or more calming activity, then the child will automatically begin to ‘retrain’ their brain and acknowledge it as a positive activity. One way to do this is with an emotional support animal or ESA.
Our family’s ESA does this exact thing and it has been an astonishing and immediate positive change to our evening routine.
Pets provide amazing emotional support
One thing I’ve learned on my journey to my best life is that animals really do provide emotional support to their people in a very instinctive and powerful way. Our pets love us so unconditionally, don’t they? They sense our feelings and respond accordingly. When we are happy and excited they are too, when we feel sad or worried they lay in our laps in comfort. They stick by us no matter what and don’t hold grudges as people do.
Lincoln, our pitbull
I remember once last summer, I left the house in a hurry to get my kids to an appointment. We accidentally left our pitbull, Lincoln, outside for about 3 hours. Thankfully it was a breezy day and we have a covered porch in our backyard for him to lay under in shade. I felt awful when I arrived home and saw him sitting at the door. You know what, when I let Lincoln inside, he was absolutely elated to see me. His tail was wagging, his licks were plentiful, and he had immediately forgiven me for forgetting about him and abandoning him in the summer heat for so long. I was lucky that day that the weather was nice.
The power of a pet's love
Any human would have been mad about being left in the heat and forgotten for 3 hours. The dog? He just loved me through it. It was that moment that I realized how powerful a pet’s love actually is, and I haven’t forgotten it. Our pets are content and happiest when by our sides. They also relieve our human emotions and stresses just by being there. If you’ve ever owned a pet, I’m sure you would probably agree.
Emotional support animals
Some animals are acquired specifically for emotional support and are not technically considered pets. These animals are recognized and protected under the federal Fair Housing Act as well as HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development). It is important to note here, not all ESAs are dogs, but some states differ in what type of animals they allow as ESAs, as well as the documentation and paperwork they require as proof.
ESAs can easily be registered online with documentation from your doctor or mental health professional, but if you’re planning to do so, please research which site is best for you to go through because some are more trusted than others. You’ll want a certificate and an identification card and can acquire tags and vests if you’re interested in those things.
Who needs emotional support animals?
You may be wondering who would need an animal for emotional support. The ESA Registration of America explains that people with mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, Veterans and military personnel, people with autism and Asperger's syndrome, and those with PTSD or psychotic disorders may benefit from them.
My family has an ESA for anxiety. We recently brought him into our home just a few months ago and he has changed our lives in an unbelievable way. To us, when he is at home, he is a pet. We love him, care for him, and play with him as we do our other pets. He just also has special things he does to help with anxiety when we need him to - both in and outside of our home.
Trained for emotional support
We have three pets and we love them all to the moon and back, but this one is clearly special and skilled in his trade. I joke that he’s earning his keep with his magical powers, but really he just has a knack for loving us well. He’s so good at it, in fact, that we are considering extending his training to allow him to provide support to those in need at nursing homes and in children’s hospitals.
Quick Tip: Emotional support animals who are registered and accompany you to places outside of your home do require some training from a young age, as well as registration and proof of the necessity of emotional support by a professional.
Dog vs. cat people
You guys, I have a confession. No offense to any 'cat people’ reading this, but I don’t really like cats very much. Well, I don’t necessarily dislike them, I’ve just never wanted one in my home. I’m a huge animal lover, just really more of a 'dog person.' To me, cats can seem a little standoffish and on their own terms more than a dog. Plus, the hair is just not something I have time to mess with on top of everything else going on in our lives.
Buuuut...I have a cat.
A naked one.
What is that thing?
We have a 7-month-old Sphynx, that is literally ‘hairless’...for the most part. Eli is one of those strange looking animals that makes you do a double take when you see him. Most people who aren’t familiar with Sphynx cats sort-of tilt their head and squint when they look at him, and then ask something like, “What is that thing?” or even, “What kind of dog is that?”
Eli, our 'hairless' ESA
Sphynx cats have completely different demeanors than ‘regular’ house cats. They behave more like a dog, wanting love and affection all the time. This specific type of cat does require some extra care than a regular house cat but is extremely patient, intuitive, and intelligent. They are perfect as an alternative to a dog as an ESA. Our kitten plays like a normal kitten and uses a litter box, but I can also put clothes on him, put him in water for baths, and hold him on his back like a baby. Not all cats do that! He loves it all. The more attention he can get, the better.
The life of Eli
Eli’s skin is a beautiful gray with a purple-ish blue hue to it. He has a wrinkly forehead that looks like a brain, dons piercing lemon-lime colored eyes and alien-like ‘fingers’, has a rat tail, and sports clothes because he gets cold. Not to mention how cute he is with clothes on. Eli also gets pampered with nail trimmings and baths weekly and wolfs down bananas every chance he gets...you know...because his looks alone just aren’t strange enough. There are little patches of black fur on the back of his way-too-big ears and on the top of his nose. He’s lacking whiskers and always looks mad and annoyed, but isn’t. We lovingly call that ‘resting Sphynx face’ at our house.
This cat is the strangest, but cutest little thing I’ve ever seen and anyone that has spent five minutes with him falls completely in love...even those who dislike cats or think he’s ‘ugly’. Gasp! Eli isn’t ‘ugly,' he is just different than what comes to mind when one thinks of a cat. He draws crowds in public places. People often want permission to take his picture and ask to touch ‘it’ as if he’s really a visitor from Mars.
Eliminate your stressors
Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
Between all the beautiful moments of life, we all find stressors and challenges. Anxiety and stress can take its toll on our overall health, including our already fragile eyes. It’s imperative for us all to find some relief for this stress and an emotional support animal has worked wonders for our family!
I’d love to hear what helps eliminate your stress too!
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