According to data from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the United States. There are a number of treatments for anxiety, ranging from medication and therapy to support groups. Although highly treatable, only about a third of the approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. who have affected receive treatment.
Recently, a surprising new weapon has been found in the battle against some anxiety disorders. Animal-assisted therapy may aid individuals suffering from anxiety and help to reduce or relieve their symptoms.
A Shift in Focus
Animals require attention, so people who suffer from anxiety are forced to forget about themselves for the time being and tend to the animals by caring for them. They ultimately become so focused on their animal companion that they spend far less time engaging with worrying thoughts or traumatic memories. This shift in focus can gradually reduce anxiety levels.
People with anxiety disorders never have to worry about whether an animal is judging them. Therapy animals are very loving and accepting creatures who reward their human caretakers with unconditional love. While animals demand a lot of care and attention, people who have anxiety can take great comfort in knowing that their therapy pet is their reliable, non-judgmental companion.
In several studies where dogs were used to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a type of anxiety disorder, psychologists observed a reduction in symptoms. More research is being conducted into the positive effects of animal companionship on war veterans suffering from PTSD, but much of the feedback looks very promising.