By Cassidy Reyna
Animals of any species can make a positive impact in both a person’s life and on their mental health. Through the pandemic, many people have become victims to their own anxieties. After having to stay in doors for over a year, having a four-legged pal or scaly skin reptile has helped many ELAC students cope with anxiety and depression.
ELAC student Nayeli Garcia is majoring in health information technology and coding, and has been lucky to have her dog named Princess. Garcia found Princess wandering the streets at 8 months old.
After the death of her dog Mona, she stumbled upon Princess and stayed by her side. Princess is now 12 years old and still brings so much joy and happiness to Garcia’s heart.
“I feel animals are so pure, they love their humans no matter what. I could be having a bad day, and they don’t care because all they want is to be with you, and princess is just like that,” Garcia said.
Princess has helped Garcia with her anxiety and kept her calm throughout the pandemic and balancing family and school work. Garcia also talked about how animals are sometimes all people have or want in their life.
Many people choose to adopt animals and give them loving homes. According to Shelters Animals Count, it has been recorded that among 500 rescue organizations across the U.S. there have been more than 26,000 adoptions in 2020 than 2019.
Garcia also talked about how Princess has become best friends with her son, and not only has Princess stabilized her mental health but that of her family.
ELAC student Diana Ramirez is a nursing major and recently adopted two dogs within the past year. Ramirez adopted two siberian huskies Yukio and Yuna. She has struggled with balancing her responsibilities due to stress and anxiety. Before her dogs were a part of her life, she felt as though she might not be a worthy nursing student and wondering if the path she’s taking was the right one.
“Before my dogs came home, I would be so stressed out with classes. It took me so long to complete assignments due to loss of motivation and questioning my career path. I had no inspiration as well, it felt like a routine,” Ramirez said.
Similar to many other students, even before the pandemic it was easy to feel overwhelmed having to commute to and from campus along with other home responsibilities. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, it wouldn’t have given the chance for some students to realize that their mental health is a priority.
“Now that I have my dogs, my anxiety levels are down and I feel comfortable to take exams. I learned how important it is to take breaks and have a little ‘me time,’ and to take care of my physical and mental health. I realized that it is not a waste of time and it is okay to step away from school for a moment and come back refreshed,” Ramirez said.
Many students like Ramirez have actually taken advantage of the pandemic to take time for themselves while still staying in school. Her pets have helped her focus her energy onto herself and school. “My dogs changed my mental and physical health for the better and I don’t feel like my life is a routine anymore. Instead, it feels new and adventurous everyday. I feel more motivated and inspired to continue with my nursing career without doubting my worth as a nursing student,” Ramirez said.
Former ELAC student and Campus News staff writer Melvin Bui has always had fish throughout his life. Bui took the chance of adopting new fish every so often throughout the pandemic as it is his hobby to care for them.
“I have always kept fish my whole life, before the pandemic I had two fish tanks and I set up another two during the pandemic. I own dozens of tropical freshwater fish and cherry shrimp and a part of my local fishkeeping club, Southern California Aquatic Plant Enthusiast Club. It’s an online forum where people share their pictures and talk about freshwater planted tanks.”
“I join monthly Zoom calls to show my aquarium to other members and vice versa. I go to the fish store at least once every two weeks to talk to the owners for some fishkeeping tips or just about life. It’s a nice little break from reality,” said Bui.
He also talked about his other pets which include his dog Dobby an american bully, and his california king snake who remains unnamed. Due to his last semester before transferring from ELAC being taken due to COVID, adopting more pets and learning about them has kept him level headed.
“Keeping pets helped me stay sane during the pandemic because it gave me an excuse to take breaks and trips to the local fish store. Since I wasn’t able to explore nature, I brought nature to my home,” said Bui.
ELAC staff is also no stranger to keeping four-legged friends and helping them with mental health. Psychology Professor Bryant Horowitz Ph.D. has his own pets who have stood by his side. He used to have a german shepherd named Moxie who recently passed away in December. However, he recently adopted a goldendoodle named Grace who is 11 weeks old.
Horowitz talked about the science behind the connection between humans and animals, and how they comfort humans. Horowitz has a background in behavioral neuroscience and is able to speak to how the brain reacts to stimulation from animals.
“One of the things that humans and animals are, are social creatures. One of the first things you get is the social contact from an animal but there’s a special bond because it’s not verbal, it’s attention and love which is unconditional,” Horowitz said.
Horowitz also talked about the interaction between humans and animals that plays a role in reducing stress and anxiety. The attention from both parties benefits both as this contributes to the social connection that is needed.
Horowitz went into detail of how chemical imbalance takes a toll on when it comes to anxiety and depression. Especially during the pandemic, it causes rumination which causes people to constantly over think and be in their heads due to not being able to leave the house. Therefore causing anxiety and depression and triggering higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
Horowitz also talked about the types of “happy” hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Norepinephrine is the chemical that indicates the levels of arousal, when chemicals like serotonin are down norepinephrine increases in reaction to anxiety and stress, then causing chemical imbalance.
When it comes to the interactions between humans and animals, it helps bring down the chemical imbalance as it’s a distraction from everyday stressors.
Former ELAC student Vanessa Venegas who is now a part of Via Care on campus also has two goldendoodles of her own. She has a male and female goldendoodle named Arya and Pimpón. Venegas knows that many will face separation anxiety when it comes to life going back to “normal.” “We have been receiving so much love from our pets, when things go back to normal, separation anxiety will happen,” Venegas said.
She knows that having pets is a part of self-care but that many students may need the extra resources when it comes to dealing with separation anxiety. “Not everyone has the skills to realize what they’re feeling and they’re not alone,” Venegas said. Venegas wants students to know that they can reach out to Via Care and know that everything is confidential if they ever need help.
Venegas explained that students can go to https://www.viacarela.org/ and navigate to the patient portal to use the app “Healow” to have app based contact similar to Zoom for resources. This is open to ELAC students and those based in the East Los Angeles area. If students or citizens would like to keep it completely confidential, they can call (323) 268-9191.
Pets will always have a soft spot in Elans hearts and keep students afloat when it comes to balancing mental health, classwork and personal life situations. For students who need mental health resources, go to http://elac.edu/Student-Services/Student-Resources/Student-Health-Center or to contact Via Care call (323) 268-9191 or go to https://www.viacarela.org/.