As many of you who tune in regularly know, I struggle with having an anxiety disorder that manifests itself in almost every area of my life. Sometimes my anxiety is set off by specific things, such as loud noises and needles, but often, it is provoked randomly and interferes with my daily life. This is especially distressing when I’m trying to sleep and my heart won’t stop pounding, or if I’m sitting in class and I suddenly feel a giant wave of panic.
Although my anxiety is definitely much more severe than an average person’s, it has actually gotten better in recent years. From the summer of 2016 to the summer of 2019, I took a moderate dose of Lexapro to manage my anxiety symptoms. Now, I’m off of my antidepressant and I take a natural 5-HTP serotonin supplement instead. I also take a combination estrogen pill, which even further manages my anxiety and overall health. In rare emergencies that I am really having a full-fledged panic, my doctor has instructed me to take Ativan if I need it. This has also been really helpful for me -incredibly helpful, really. Especially if I know I have a shot or a doctor’s visit coming up, I can rely on taking an Ativan to prevent me from passing out.
While all these pills are good and dandy, there’s another component that really helps me manage my anxiety. My dog has been my number one supporter throughout my entire teenage years and into my young adult life. Dogs in general have the amazing ability to sense emotions from their humans. In fact, dogs can literally smell the change in your mood, and many will immediately spring to action to assist you in any way.
For example, Duke, my yellow Labrador, inherently knows that crying or sniffling means I am upset. Even if I just blow my nose with a tissue, he always thinks I’m crying and immediately runs over to me, wagging his tail in concern. If I am crying and Duke approaches me with concern, that usually is enough for me to pull myself together and smile for him. Especially if he starts licking away my tears, that is almost always guaranteed to make me laugh.
If I am panicking or visibly having an anxiety attack, however, Duke reacts differently. Instead of being vocal and causing commotion, he usually gets quiet and just lays down in front of me. Or, he’ll come up to me and lay on top of me. Deep touch therapy (or deep pressure therapy) is a real practice trained to service dogs when their owner is having an anxiety attack, because it has a calming, organizing effect on the body. The fact that Duke knows I need his comfort and support without even asking is amazing, and shows just how in tune dogs really are with their best human friends.
Something that I hear come up a lot on anxiety forums is whether or not people with panic/anxiety disorders are qualified for service dogs. For me personally, I would say it depends on the individual case. If your anxiety has complicated to the point that you can no longer leave your house, I would say that person definitely qualifies for a service animal. If your anxiety prevents you from getting the help you need, then I also think that would warrant a service animal. That being said, there are cases in which a person with anxiety may still want an animal without it being registered as an official service dog. One way to do this is to register your pet as an emotional support animal, which is easier to do but does not grant your animal access to as many establishments as a service dog would.
I myself have wondered if my anxiety is intense enough to justify a service dog. Like I said before, my fear of needles and hospitals has caused me to reach a point where I would almost definitely avoid going to the hospital at all costs, even if I really needed to. When I have really bad panic attacks, I lose my vision and my hearing, and that can be really traumatizing to go through all alone. If I at least had some sort of trained companion, I would probably be more open to leaving my house and going to medical offices without the fear of having a panic attack all by myself, because the service dog would be able to comfort me and perhaps even stop the attack from happening altogether.
That being said, I have no plans to go out and apply for a service animal right now. I would worry, actually, that I was taking the animal away from someone who needed it more than me. It is something I think about for my future, though, especially since I’m becoming an adult and I’ll have to start doing things on my own. If I do end up reaching a point where I can’t even go to work or seek medical help because I’m too scared of having a panic attack, then I’ll really start to think more seriously about it.
Anyway, that is my personal experience with animals and managing my GAD. Do you have any heartwarming experiences with your animals treating anxiety? Let me know down below!
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