As many across the country shelter at home during the coronavirus, it can be especially trying for those going it alone.


The challenges of living and working in isolation with little outside social contact begin to weigh heavily.


While businesses and organizations open back up, animal shelters too are resuming in-person adoptions for dogs and cats.


Each year, 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide, according to the ASPCA, while just over 3.2 million of those animals are adopted. For those grappling with depression or anxiety, a new pet can be a great companion to offer unconditional love and break the lonely cycle.


But there are new responsibilities that come with pet ownership to keep in mind, mental health professionals advise.


“It’s an excellent option to cope with loneliness and a loss of interactions, but it’s something you need to really think about when everything lifts and goes back to normal,” shares Prairie Conlon, a licensed mental health professional and animal- assisted therapist.


Conlon works with patients through her own practice while also working closely with Therapetics, a nationwide company which helps those in need of an Emotional Support Animal.


She says adopting a dog or cat is a great way to deal with anxiety and depression issues that may have developed during the coronavirus shutdown.


But before bringing a new furry friend into your home, Conlon says to consider that an animal is a long-term commitment which will continue long past the pandemic.


“It’s important to remember that relationship will be at least 10 to 15 years long,” Conlon advises. “It’s going to have it’s up and downs, but it can be very rewarding for animal lovers who need a healthy routine and a healthy distraction.”


And pets can certainly have many positive effects on the mental health of their owners. A 2014 study published by BioMed Central, an online medical journal publisher, found of more than 5,200 seniors surveyed, those who owned pets reported far less signs of loneliness.


In fact, many studies show pet owners experience a range of positive benefits beyond the mental health effects which include lower blood pressure, decreased allergies and more opportunities for exercise.


Those benefits can add up to a more positive outlook, and longer, healthier lives. Conlon says pets can be a positive source of love and routine for those grappling with depression, which often manifests itself as lethargy or apathy.


“A lot of times, working with people with depression, one of the biggest hurdles is once they can get up and move around a little bit, it becomes easier, and that dog or cat is there needing to be fed and attended to which is a helpful first step,” she added.


For those suffering from anxiety, owning a pet can also be a great way to take your mind off excessive worrying, Conlon says.


“Animals are really good at interrupting that pattern,” she said. “They demand attention or they’ll do something funny or want to go outside for a walk – they can really help break up that viscous cycle of worry.”


If you’re thinking about adopting a new companion, Conlon recommends first making sure your apartment or housing rules allow for pets. Also, consider how a dog or cat will be cared for work returns to an office.


Will you be able to provide doggie day care or return home at lunch to walk the dog? If those plans don’t come to fruition, that failure could actually exacerbate any mental health issues, Conlon cautions.


“It’s an exciting thought to get a new pet if you’ve been dealing with anxiety or depression, but you need to consider the animal too,” she advised. “As with any form of clinical treatment, weigh the pros and cons, and what’s it going to look like down the road.”


For more information about Therpetics and Emotional Support Animals, visit online at www.therapetic.org, or visit Prairie Conlon’s website at www.journeyswithprairie.com