I've suffered from a severe anxiety disorder for over two years now. It has debilitated me, kept me from succeeding in school, and even stopped me from pursuing my passions. I've tried everything to alleviate it―meditation, yoga, therapies. You name it, I've done it. Though medications are helpful, I needed something extra. I needed more support. I needed something... well, something cute and fluffy.
I've always lived with animals. My entire life there have been animals in my home. When I left for college, I went two months without a cute fuzzy creature to greet me when I came home. Two months was enough! I had my dad help me sneak my hamster from home into my dormitory, despite the rule that if it couldn't live underwater for 48 hours, it wasn't allowed. If it were any consolation, he did live in a fish tank.
I discovered during the subsequent months that out of everything that I tried to quell my anxiety, petting my little hamster calmed me more than almost anything, and yet didn't put me to sleep like my medications did. Ashley, the little hamster boy I rescued from a pet shop where he'd been injured by other hamsters, seemed to have the power to calm my nerves better than any therapist I'd been to.
Though Ashley has been a great companion, a little hamster can only give so much love. After moving out of the dorms that summer after my freshman year, I adopted a chinchilla I named Zumi. She too gave me someone to talk to and keep me company through a very difficult summer living with demanding and disagreeable roommates.
What is it about these little creatures that can produce such an effect? For years, studies have shown that animals can lower blood pressure, help people with various disabilities, and keep the lonely company. Perhaps, it's their capacity for love, their curiosity about the human world they've been domesticated into, or their adorable little nuances. I'm not sure and I don't believe that science has an answer yet, either.
Despite that, I am a huge advocate of animal therapy, for not only the mentally ill, but for just about anybody. Just like you need not be ill to undergo massage therapy, you don't need to be sick to experience the benefits of pet therapy, either. The joy a pet can bring to your life, whether it's tiny like Ashley the hamster or as big as a horse, can be a good therapy to keep us healthy and happy whether something is ailing us or not.
What I'd implore you to do, if it's in your capacity, is to consider bringing an animal into your life. Yes, it's a big commitment and it takes time, dedication, and a little research into how to properly care for that animal, but the rewards are endless. I have now adopted two more chinchillas, a rabbit, and a cat, all of whom I love dearly and never for a second do I regret the decision. If you are ill or disabled and worry about caring for a pet, talk to someone at your local animal shelter to find a pet that's right for you. Even something as small as a goldfish can bring a bit of joy into your life you would not have had otherwise.
Humane societies and animal shelters are filled with homeless pets waiting for humans to open up their hearts and homes to them. Go to Petfinder and find yourself a companion. If anything, it's therapeutic.