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8 Ways Emotional Support Animals Can Help With PTSD

8 Ways Emotional Support Animals Can Help With PTSD

PTSD is becoming an increasing mental health menace in our society. It is estimated that about one in ten people will have PTSD at some point in their lives.

Treatments for PTSD include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). However, animals are beginning to be prescribed as a treatment for PTSD as they can offer more than companionship.

Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are support animals that help reduce the severity of mental disorders and disabilities symptoms. Dogs are the most common type of ESA, but they could also be pets, birds, or other non-violent animals.

Emotional support animals help PTSD patients in the following ways:

Companionship

Like other pets, a great benefit of having an emotional support animal is its companionship. People with PTSD are more affected by feelings of loneliness than other people. It can lead to more intense bouts of depression and anxiety than usual. An emotional support animal can give them the companionship they need and deserve.

It can give a PTSD patient great solace in knowing that they are not alone. Hence, they can offer support and meaningful connection vital for a recovering PTSD patient with their mere presence. The companionship can help the patient deal with emotional issues that often make PTSD worse.

However, you need to be careful about spending too much time with a pet. It can lead to separation anxiety in the pet and also in you when you are not around each other. For the relationship to work long-term and the patient to receive companionship for their benefit, a healthy relationship between the two is vital.

Less Anxiety And Stress

Chronic stress and anxiety are two of the most prevalent symptoms of PTSD. For someone to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they must have faced incredibly challenging conditions in the past. Anxious and stressful are the two adjectives you will often hear people with PTSD use about the conditions that caused their disorder.

A pet can help when PTSD patients have to deal with anxiety or stress. These conditions may randomly arise in the patient when they revisit memories. Anxiety and stress could also occur during day-to-day activities, for example, being in traffic or during flight travel.

PTSD patients in the United States will need an ESA letter to travel with their pets. Therefore, patients who want to travel with their emotional support animal need to learn the requirements for an ESA to fulfill. Otherwise, they will encounter more anxiety and stress when forced to be separated from their pets.

Animal interactions result in increased feelings of peace and happiness in people, reducing stress and anxiety by lowering oxytocin levels. An emotional support animal can hence improve the emotional state of PTSD patients and reduce the mental health effects of the condition.

Better Physical Health

Another great benefit of a PTSD patient having an emotional support animal is that it can benefit their physical health. Exercise is essential for everyone because it has excellent physical and mental health benefits.

Playing with a pet is great exercise as animals are very energetic. PTSD patients can play with their emotional support animals to gain physical benefits of training like increased muscle mass, better cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure, and stronger bones.

Physical activity also benefits the mind considerably. It can lead to improved moods, better brain chemistry, increased cognitive function, reduced anxiety & depression, and enhanced self-esteem. A simple trip to the park with your emotional support animal could help you gain the benefits outlined above. Excellent physical health is the basis of overall health, which ESAs could help PTSD patients achieve.

Therefore, PTSD patients should get toys for their emotional support animals. You can use the toys to play with your dog or ESA and become more physically active, for example, playing games like frisbee or catch. The toys could also help keep your support animal busy when you are not around to reduce the chances of separation anxiety.

Let Go Of Anger And Resentment

PTSD patients often harbor strong feelings of anger and resentment, damaging their physical and mental state. These are emotions that many people who have faced severe trauma in the past hold on to for various reasons. The anger and resentment could be directed towards the cause of their trauma which could be people or situations.

Emotional support animals could help PTSD patients release their feelings of anger and resentment, which is very difficult to do, especially when the trauma runs so deep. A combination of treatment by mental health professionals and the presence of an ESA has the best result for letting go of such feelings.

Emotional support animals do not hold on to such feelings. Their emotional state has a beneficial effect on PTSD patients showing them how to empty themselves of emotions that are causing them harm. Pets are the best teachers for being optimistic and easygoing, which is a lesson PTSD patients need to learn.

Increased Self Sufficiency

Some cases of PTSD are so severe that the patient becomes largely incapacitated. PTSD patients with PTSD suffer from varying levels of incapacitation and find it challenging to perform everyday tasks that other people would easily do. Therefore, they need assistance to perform various functions. The help is not always present, making life very challenging for them.

Emotional support animals can help PTSD patients have increased levels of self-sufficiency. The animals are specifically trained to assist with daily tasks such as walking, carrying items, e.t.c. Hence, the patient will not need the assistance of other people as much as they would otherwise need and will have greater self-dependence than they would have on their own.

By being more self-sufficient, PTSD patients increase their self-esteem as they know they can handle themselves. A well-trained ESA could help PTSD patients defend themselves if other people or animals attacked them. Higher self-esteem and feelings of self-worth lead to better mental health and reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

A Sense Of Responsibility And Purpose

A famous quote by Fredrich Nietzsche states, “He who has a reason to live can bear almost anyhow.” Therefore, a sense of purpose is one of the essential elements of human existence. Emotional support animals can help PTSD patients have a sense of purpose which is usually diminished. By having an animal that helps take care of them, they will be inclined to return the favor.

Some PTSD patients have said that they did not commit suicide at some point simply because of their ESA. The animals are often all they have and are crucial to their emotional stability, especially in the case of war veterans. Reciprocating the love they receive from their emotional support animals could be all that is keeping a PTSD patient alive.

Moreover, pets add responsibility to a PTSD patient’s life, another vital element of human life. Animals need to be fed, cleaned, and exercised at specific times. If they are not done, the state of the animal will suffer.

Taking care of the pet and performing various duties at certain times of the day can help add structure to a PTSD patient’s life. It makes them responsible for another life, translating to them being responsible for their own lives.

Once the patients become aware that they are accountable for their mental state, it empowers them to improve their well-being and break free from whatever holds them back from living healthy lives.

Increased Mindfulness and Awareness

A lack of mindfulness and awareness is fundamental to PTSD. PTSD patients are often stuck in the past and dwell in the trauma that adversely affected them. It debilitates them and leads to them having anxiety about what the future holds and depression about the past.

Emotional support animals, and animals in general, do not care about the future or the past. They live entirely in the present and can teach PTSD patients crucial lessons about doing the same. You only have to spend a few hours with an ESA to see how easily they let go of things by being in the present moment.

Therefore, emotional support animals can teach PTSD patients to be mindful and increase their awareness of the present moment. They will let go of anxiety and depression, discovering the joy they can find by living mindfully. The result will be a happy life with lessons they can teach others.

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Anna Marston
Anna is a full-time veterinary technician with more than 20 years of experience in the pet care industry. She resides in Upstate New York with her hubby, daughter, and a menagerie of fur-babies.

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