Emotional support animals for health care providers

Me: “Hey buddy, how was your day?”

Salem: “Meow meow meow!”

Me: “Really? That sounds so cool! What else did you do today? I missed you so much!”

My favorite part of each day is coming home to my sweet boy, Salem. He is a 2-year-old cat that I adopted from the Capital Area Humane Society in Lansing, MI. He is the light of my life, even amidst all the darkness that exists. My personal darkness is my depression. The issues I have in relationships, the stress of medical school, and dealing with the pandemic’s uncertainty have made this last year very challenging. At times, I feel like there is little to look forward to. All the conferences I was planning on attending have been canceled. Social distancing has made it challenging to network with other medical students, and international mission trips and rotations have been halted. I have dealt with a series of panic attacks, depressive episodes, and even suicidality during this time. As a 3rd year osteopathic medical student, I know the benefits of taking a daily antidepressant and participating in cognitive behavioral therapy; however, the idea is still a little uncomfortable for me, and I was more interested in an alternative therapy first. Because my family manages an animal rescue, one of my first thoughts was to adopt a rescue animal.

My Aunt Rose is the president and founder of Fido and Fluffy’s Rescue in Armada, MI. Because of her, I have been surrounded by all kinds of dogs and cats my entire life, but I have never owned one myself. It is very common for people to come to our weekly adoption events looking for an animal who they can use as a therapy animal or emotional companion. The look of pure elation and joy when a person finds “the right one” is impossible to forget. It has been known for many years that interaction with animals creates an increase in oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, and norepinephrine in addition to a reduction in cortisol levels, all of which are excellent for improving mental health and stress management. Furthermore, in recent research, companion animals are especially beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their research suggests that animals’ non-judgmental approach induces feelings of trust and peace and helps with companionship. In a time of social distancing, grief over COVID infection and death, and political divisiveness, animals seem to be just the prescription we are looking for!

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a great option for almost everyone, especially health care providers. The love of an ESA can help restore the tremendous emotional and physical fatigue the pandemic has brought on. Animals make great exercise companions by giving you an excuse to go outside more often and take long walks in the neighborhood. More importantly, with the end of social distancing far from sight, especially for those in health care, ESAs will be there for you when no when else is allowed to be. Like therapy animals are employed by the hospital to brighten patients’ spirits, health care providers must also invest in themselves and preserve their mental health.

Above all else, animals are a great source of comedic relief. If you are sitting on the couch decompressing after a stressful or eventful day, your pet chasing its tail, losing its toy, or rolling off the couch can be just what it takes to crack a smile. Now more than ever, it’s really true that animals are a man’s best friend!

And remember, “Adopt, Don’t Shop!”

Brittany Ladson is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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