Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million of the adult population. In most cases, anxiety disorders are treatable, yet only 36.9 percent of people suffering receive proper treatment.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most prevalent form of anxiety, representing about 3.1 percent of the U.S. adult population. It manifests as a persistent, exaggerated, and impractical worry about everyday scenarios that the majority of the population would not be too concerned about or would worry about at a degree as extreme as those who have GAD.
Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Patients diagnosed with GAD exhibit both of these characteristics:
- Disproportionate anxiety or worry for at least six months
- Struggle to control worrying thoughts, which can interfere with daily life
Furthermore, GAD patients experience at least three of the following circumstances:
- Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and irritability
- Tension in the muscles
- Restlessness or always feeling on edge
- Poor sleep or occurrence of sleep disturbances
GAD can be extremely crippling. Patients often anticipate the worst possible outcomes and may be overly concerned about health, money, family, friends, work, the past, future, and other issues. Treatment may be necessary to control such excessive worries and irrational fears.
How Emotional Support Animals Help With GAD
Having an emotional support animal (ESA) presents several benefits to those with GAD. Similar to how emotional support animals can help cope with stress, people with anxiety disorders can benefit from the increased social interactions, love from a non-judgmental companion, and the healthy distraction a pet brings. People with GAD may experience bouts of loneliness, which contributes to heightened anxiety. In these cases, having a pet can help prevent feelings of loneliness.
Emotional support animals can help in many other ways:
- Pet owners, especially those who have dogs, often walk more, which is good for lowering blood pressure. For people with GAD that prevent them from leaving the house, a pet can provide an additional boost of confidence.
- Petting a cat or dog, or even an emotional support chicken, can help induce a sense of calmness and relaxation. Their soft fur or feathers feel good on the skin, and the process of petting an animal lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
- Pet owners with good relationships with their animals are in better moods overall, likely because having a loyal companion can help increase the amount of happiness-boosting dopamine in the brain.
- Adorable pets attract other people. Many patients who live with GAD find it challenging to make friends and initiate conversations. An emotional support pet can bridge that gap by simply being their charming self and providing a conversation starter. It is common for animal lovers to approach others who are walking their dog; they may ask permission to pet or learn more about the animal. As a person with GAD participates in the friendly conversation, they will begin to release endorphins (the body’s natural pain and stress fighters), which will help them continue the conversation and feel good about it afterward.
Pets also bring health-boosting benefits to their owners, and this is especially true for those with anxiety or GAD. An article from Help Guide indicates that:
- People with pets are less likely to experience depressive episodes
- Pet owners are less likely to have high blood pressure than those without pets
- Playing with a dog or cat can raise levels of dopamine and serotonin, both of which help in making people feel calm or relaxed
- Pet owners have a lower triglyceride and cholesterol level compared to those who don’t have pets
- Those with pets, especially men and women aged 65 or older, are 30 percent less prone to need to visit a doctor compared to those without pets
- Pet owners who’ve experienced a heart attack may live longer than those without a pet
The Role of Emotional Support Animals in Providing Consistency for GAD
For the millions of people living with general anxiety disorder, new or unfamiliar situations can be stressful enough to trigger an anxiety or panic attack. Having an emotional support animal can help build a routine that brings reassurance and structure to patients who need them. Moreover, the endless loyalty and unconditional love of a pet can help lift the spirits of those who are feeling down and defeated.
For patients who struggle to manage depression, accomplishing tasks can leave a lasting impression and provide benefits that may last for several hours, if not for the whole day. For instance, if someone has a hard time getting out of bed every morning, being nudged out of bed by a pet that wants to have breakfast or needs to take care of his morning business gives the owner motivation to get up and out the door. As a result, they have accomplished something they normally wouldn’t have. To add, giving treats to a pet and seeing the pleasure and excitement in their eyes can be contagious, often spreading the happy feeling to the owner.
Since most pets have the same needs over and over again, the repetition and need to satisfy those requirements give consistency and a growing list of accomplishments every day, as each task is completed successfully.
The world can be a very stressful place and the worries of everyday life can overwhelm you with negative thoughts and emotions. To help cope with these feelings, more people are turning to pets as a source of comfort.
If you are suffering from GAD or any other mental health problem and would like to see if you qualify for an emotional support animal but you do not have access to a licensed therapist, our doctors who specialize in writing ESA letters can help.
How to Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal
In most situations, people with generalized anxiety disorder will qualify for assistance from an emotional support animal. If you think you qualify or know someone who could benefit from an ESA, you can get an ESA letter here. If yours is expired, you can also request to renew your ESA letter here.