Therapy pets have become more common in the past decade or so and can be found in many places. These animals are wonderful for helping anxious people calm down and return to a normal state.
In addition to therapy dogs, many hospitals and counselors are now using therapy animals as a part of therapy. There are many positive aspects of having a therapy animal by your side. The first is that it will provide comfort for your anxiety or panic attack.
Therapy Pets For Anxiety
We all know that pets are good for us. They help reduce stress and anxiety, improve our moods, and even help us live longer. But did you know that there is a particular type of pet that is especially helpful for people experiencing anxiety? Therapy dogs!
What makes therapy dogs so special? Well, unlike other pets, therapy dogs have undergone extensive training to learn how to interact with people who are experiencing physical and emotional distress. These training programs can take anywhere from six months to two years depending on the organization that trains them. After they graduate from their program, therapy dogs will visit hospitals, schools, nursing homes, libraries—anywhere there are people who might need a little boost!
These animals provide unconditional love and comfort to those who need it most. They’re patient listeners who don’t judge or interrupt when someone is sharing their story with them. They provide peace of mind through companionship when you’re feeling lonely or scared at night. Therapy dogs also offer support during stressful situations like funerals or job interviews because they’re trained to sniff out fear in humans!
Therapy pets for anxiety can be a great way to help you manage your anxiety and stress. A therapy pet is a pet that has been trained to provide comfort and affection to those who are having a hard time coping.
There are many different types of therapy pets, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, rats, and even lizards! Many families have found that having a therapy pet has helped them get through difficult times such as the death of a loved one or the loss of their home in a fire.
If you want to learn about how therapy pets can help with your anxiety, keep reading!
Therapy Pets For Anxiety
People with anxiety-related issues can gain tremendous benefit from having a specially trained service dog.
Service dogs are companion animals that help people who have physical or mental health conditions.
A service dog for anxiety can provide a sense of calm, anticipate anxiety attacks, and even fetch medication for their owner.
In this article, we look at the benefits of service dogs for people with anxiety. We discuss how to get an anxiety service dog, which breeds make the most successful anxiety service dogs, and how much they cost.
Service dogs help people with physical or mental conditions.
Service dogs offer practical and emotional support to people with a physical or mental health difficulty.
The most well-known service dogs are guide dogs, which assist people who have visual impairments.
Psychiatric service dogs
A psychiatric service dog is a dog that helps someone with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, or other mental health conditions.
All service dogs have completed specialized training and are legally recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
These dogs can go anywhere with their owner, from restaurants to airplanes.
People can train service dogs to perform specific tasks depending on an individual’s needs.
Roles carried out by service dogs for anxiety include:
- detecting signs of an anxiety attack before it happens
- fetching medication or water during an anxiety attack
- bringing someone to help the person in distress
- preventing strangers from approaching the person in distress
- calming a person down during an anxiety attack through distraction, such as licking their face or providing a paw
- providing deep pressure therapy to soothe their owner
- retrieving a phone during an anxiety attack
- reminding a person to take their medication at certain times of the day
- performing safety checks of rooms or turning the lights on for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Merely being around dogs provides many benefits, including:
- Exercise. Having a dog is a great way to encourage those with anxiety to exercise. Physical activity can improve symptoms of anxiety and other mental health conditions. It is also vital for physical health.
- Time outdoors. Walking a dog means spending time outdoors, which can sometimes be difficult for people who experience anxiety or depression. Spending time outdoors can boost people’s mental health and increase their vitamin D intake, which can improve a person’s mood.
- Company. Dogs provide love and friendship. Having a pet can reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation.
- Stress relief. Spending time with pets can reduce stress and anxiety and boost happiness. According to a 2015 studyTrusted Source, having a pet dog may reduce the risk of anxiety in children.
A 2012 reviewTrusted Source suggests that interacting with animals may:
- reduce depression and improve mood
- encourage more positive interactions with other people
- lower cortisol levels, which is one of the body’s primary stress hormones
- lower heart rate and blood pressure
- lower reported fear and anxiety
A person must meet specific criteria if they want a service dog.
People can get anxiety service dogs from specialist organizations if they meet specific criteria.
Criteria may include having:
- a physical disability or debilitating psychiatric condition
- a recommendation letter from a doctor or licensed mental health professional
- strong communication skills and patience
- the ability to consistently care for and train a service dog
- the ability to attend a handler training program
- a love of dogs
- a stable home environment
- the finances to care for and maintain a dog for 12 years or more
Many people with anxiety issues may not qualify for getting a service dog. However, some of these people may benefit from having an emotional support animal.
Emotional support animals (ESA) differ from service dogs. While trained service animals perform specific tasks, the law considers ESAs as pets. However, people can still experience tremendous benefits from living with an ESA.
ESAs are companion animals that a medical professional thinks will provide support to a person with a mental or physical health difficulty.
ESAs do not have the same legal protections that service animals do. However, they do have some protections, such as an exemption from no-pet housing rules.
Those who would like an ESA must get a letter from a licensed mental health professional to say that an animal improves at least one characteristic of their condition.
Service dogs can be expensive because of the high cost of all the training that is involved.
According to Little Angels Service Dogs, many service dog organizations throughout the United States spend between $30,000 and $40,000 per trained dog.
Each dog receives an average of more than 600 hours of training, along with veterinary care, boarding, and grooming.
Some people choose to train the dog themselves, with the help of a certified trainer. This option is less expensive, but it can still involve high costs.
However, some organizations can help people find service dogs at little or no cost. This is because they meet some or all the expenses through fundraising.
Any breed of dog can become a service dog. The most important factors are the individual dog’s temperament, and its ability to complete training.
Some of the breeds that work well as service dogs include:
- German shepherds
- golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
People with anxiety can consider regular exercise to help manage symptoms.
Service dogs are not the only option for people with an anxiety disorder. The most common ways to cope with the condition are psychotherapy and medication.
Psychotherapy helps people to reduce their anxiety symptoms. A common type of therapy for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
People may use medications alone or alongside psychotherapy. These may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or sedatives.
People with anxiety might consider making some lifestyle changes to help manage their symptoms. These include:
- getting regular exercise
- eating a healthful diet
- quitting smoking
- reducing caffeine intake
- avoiding alcohol and drugs
- reducing stress through meditation, yoga, and deep breathing activities
- establishing a regular sleep schedule
What are some foods to ease anxiety?
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Following a nutrient-dense diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other healthy foods may help some people manage their anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety is a widespread condition, affecting millions of people globally. Symptoms vary, and some people experience them only now and then. However, someone who experiences symptoms for 6 monthsTrusted Source or longer may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
GAD has psychological and physical symptoms such as:
- excessive worry about everyday events and problems
- difficulty concentrating
- issues with personal, social, and work relationships
- heart palpitations and elevated heart rate
- muscle tension
- chest tightness
Doctors often treat GAD with a combination of treatments, including talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and medications. Sometimes, these conventional treatments do not work long-term. However, some research suggests that proper nutrition may help improve symptoms.
Transitioning to a healthier dietary pattern rich in nutrients may helpTrusted Source ease anxiety symptoms in some people. Overall dietary intake, along with therapy and medication, can be a helpful tool for anxiety management. Consuming the following foods may help reduce anxiety in some people.
1. Fatty fish
Omega-3-rich foods contain either alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) or two essential fatty acidsTrusted Source: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
A small studyTrusted Source on 24 people with substance misuse problems found that EPA and DHA supplementation resulted in reduced levels of anxiety. However, supplements generally contain a more concentrated form of nutrients than foods do.
A 2018 reviewTrusted Source found that reduced anxiety symptoms were associated with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid treatment. The effects were stronger in participants with clinical anxiety symptoms.
Current recommendations suggest eating at least two servingsTrusted Source of fatty fish per week. A studyTrusted Source conducted on men found that eating salmon three times per week reduced self-reported anxiety.
Salmon and sardines are also among the few foods that contain vitamin D.
Researchers are increasingly linking vitamin D deficiency to mood disorders such as anxiety.
Research has linkedTrusted Source low levels of vitamin D in the blood to depression and anxiety traits, though more studies are needed. People with vitamin D deficiency should consider taking high dose supplements rather than eating fatty fish alone.
Egg yolksTrusted Source, especially from pasture-raised hens, are another good source of vitamin D.
Eggs are also an excellent source of protein. They are a complete protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids the body needs for growth and development.
Eggs also contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps create serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter found in the brain, bowels, and blood platelets that helps regulate mood, sleep, memory, and behavior.
Serotonin is thought to improveTrusted Source brain function and relieve anxiety. However, it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning food and treatments containing serotonin do not supply serotonin directly but can trigger chemical reactions boosting serotonin in the brain.
Some studies suggest that diet and gut microbiota could play a role in preventing and treating symptoms related to anxiety. More research is needed to confirm whether this is possible.
3. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seedsTrusted Source are an excellent source of potassium, which helps regulateTrusted Source electrolyte balance and manage blood pressure. An older 2008 study found that lower potassium and magnesium levels were associated with high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that the adrenal glands release.
Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of the mineral zinc. One studyTrusted Source carried out on 100 female high school students found that serum zinc levels were inversely related to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. These results suggest that increasing serum levels of zinc could improve mood disorders in some people.
Zinc is essential for brain and nerve development. The largest storage sites of zinc in the body are in the brain regions involved with emotions.
4. Dark chocolate
Researchers have found that dark chocolate may help reduce stress.
Experts have long suspected that dark chocolate might help reduce stress and anxiety.
Some research has found that dark chocolate or cocoa may improve mood via the gut-brain axis. However, many of the existing studies on this subject are observational, so it is important to interpret the results with caution.
Although it is still unclear how dark chocolate may improve mood or stress, dark chocolate is a rich source of polyphenols, especially flavonoids. One studyTrusted Source suggests that flavonoids might reduce neuroinflammation and cell death in the brain as well as improve blood flow.
Chocolate has a high content of tryptophan, which the body uses to turn into mood-enhancing neurotransmittersTrusted Source such as serotonin in the brain.
People with magnesium deficiency should consider taking high dose supplements rather than eating dietary sources alone.
When choosing dark chocolate, aim for 70% cacao or more. Dark chocolate still contains added sugars and fats, so a small serving of 1–3 grams (g) is appropriate.
Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. The active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin, may help lower anxiety by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress that often increase in people experiencing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
A 2015 study found that 1 g of curcumin per day reduced anxiety in adults with obesity. People should discuss supplementation with their doctor if they are interested in high dose curcumin products.
Another study found that an increase of curcumin in the diet also increased DHA and reduced anxiety. Turmeric is easy to add to meals. It has minimal flavor, so it goes well in smoothies, curries, and casserole dishes.
Some people believe that the relaxant and anti-anxiety properties come from the flavonoids present in chamomile.
One studyTrusted Source found that taking 1,500 milligrams (mg) of chamomile extract per day (a 500-mg capsule three times per day) did reduce anxiety symptoms. However, it did not prevent new episodes of anxiety.
Chamomile tea may be useful in managing anxiety. It is readily available and safe to use in high doses.
According to a 2017 clinical review, yogurt and other dairy products may also produce an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Some researchTrusted Source suggests that chronic inflammation may be partly responsible for anxiety, stress, and depression.
A 2015 studyTrusted Source found fermented foods reduced social anxiety in some young people, while multiple studiesTrusted Source have found that consuming healthy bacteria can increase happiness in some people.
Including yogurt and other fermented foods in the diet can benefit the natural gut bacteria and may reduce anxiety and stress.
8. Green tea
Green tea contains an amino acid called theanineTrusted Source, which has been subject to increasing scrutiny because of its potential effects on mood disorders. Theanine has anti-anxiety and calming effects and may increase the production of serotonin and dopamine.
A 2017 reviewTrusted Source found that 200 mg of theanine improved self-reported relaxation and calmness while reducing tension in human trials.
9. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts contain selenium, which may help improve mood.
Other nuts, animal products, and vegetables, such as mushrooms and soybeans, are excellent sources of selenium as well.
It is important not to consume too much selenium, as it can cause side effects. The recommended upper limit for selenium for an adult is 400 microgramsTrusted Source per day. Be careful not to take high dose supplements or eat more than three or four Brazil nuts per day.
Brazil nuts and other nuts are also good sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Antioxidants can be beneficial for treating anxiety, and some researchTrusted Source has shown that low levels of vitamin E may lead to anxiety in children.
A rodent studyTrusted Source found that Brazil nuts can help address anxiety and obesity in mice. However, more human studies are necessary.
Swiss chard contains magnesium, which may help ease anxiety.
It is best to eat a varied and balanced diet that includes high quality, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Aim for whole foods, vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, and especially fish. Other foods that may help include:
- turkey and other tryptophan-containing foods, such as eggs, dark chocolate, cheese, pineapple, bananas, oats, and tofu
- nuts, especially almonds — an excellent source of vitamin E that may help prevent vitamin E deficiency, which is linked to mood disorders
- chia seeds, which are a good source of omega-3s
- protein sources, such as lean meat, fish, nuts, and dairy, which provide amino acids that the body converts into mood-lifting neurotransmitters such as serotonin
- spinachTrusted Source and Swiss chardTrusted Source, which are both high in magnesium
- fruitsTrusted Source such as berries, cherries, and citrus
Evidence increasingly shows that diets high in processed foods can increase anxiety.
When a person is experiencing anxiety and stress, it is always best for them to seek out a specialist, such as a psychologist.
Sometimes, a doctor or mental health professional may recommend talk therapy such as CBT to manage anxiety and stress. Doctors or psychiatrists may prescribe medications such as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or benzodiazepines.
People should follow a doctor’s instructions when using these drugs, as they can have severe and possibly life threatening adverse effects.