by Savana Robinson
Finals week: a stressful, anxious time for all. During this time, Raymond Haeckel, a forestry major at Cal Poly Humboldt, had a public panic attack.
“It was really embarrassing and not the best on my mental health,” Haeckel said. “I’m thinking about how all those people saw me freak out. It sucks.”
After the panic attack, Haeckel decided to adopt a companion that would ease his troubles and calm his mind; he is now the owner of a beautiful cattle dog mix, Carolina. He is certain that having an animal companion has helped support healthier habits.
“It’s a really good, big motivator to keep on a healthy schedule in my life,” Haeckel said. “When I’m feeling depressed, I have trouble keeping up with my daily habits. Having a dog to calm me down when I’m feeling anxious is really important for my mental health. It’s thanks to her that I was able to overcome my inability to sleep through the night.”
Vanessa Hidden, a leadership studies major at Cal Poly Humboldt through the College of Extended Education and Global Engagement, believes having a pet or emotional support animal can be one of human’s deepest connections.
“Our pets can stimulate the healing process within ourselves,” Hidden said. “They can help us look forward to tomorrow and get out of bed.”
Hidden is the administrator for the Co-Sheltering Collaborative, a peer-to-peer support network by My Dog is My Home. The organization is a national nonprofit focused on supporting people experiencing homelessness and their pets.
Having had pets most of her life, Hidden feels a certain sense of comfort and safety from having animals around. She has struggled with depression and anxiety disorder, and her pets were a core part of her healing process.
“To this day, [they] provide the connection and consistency I need to get through new challenges,” Hidden said. “Being fully remote for school and work… is a challenge that I don’t know I would be able to sustain without the company and emotional stability that my pets provide for me.”
Maia Ryan, a Counseling and Psychological Services therapist and campus outreach coordinator at Cal Poly Humboldt, provided some insight on how emotional support animals can improve their owner’s mental health. Social connection is crucial to overall wellbeing and there is ongoing research to prove that the positive interactions with animals offer psychophysiological and psychosocial benefits like lowering anxiety, alleviating loneliness and normalizing heart rate and blood pressure.
“People who may have difficulties with medical or emotional conditions exacerbated by stress could potentially benefit from having an emotional support animal,” Ryan said.
Mental health is heavily influenced by social connection and animals can provide that necessary companionship. The unique bond between humans and animals is a powerful source of comfort and healing, underscoring the vital role animals play in bolstering our emotional resilience and overall mental health.