The Rise of the Comforting Objects of Cuddling for Worried Adults

KYacie Willis, a 34-year-old sound producer in Atlanta, suffers from unexplained panic attacks. She has tried cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), anti-anxiety medications, mindfulness meditation, and CBD oil. While some of these have given her relief, one coping mechanism has consistently helped her manage her anxiety, especially at night: Kasey Kangaroo, a stuffed animal that she made raised from the age of four.

Willis can’t pinpoint why her stuffed kangaroo is helping her with anxiety, but it does. “Even if I don’t hug it at night when I sleep, it’s close enough for me to know it’s there. Maybe that’s why it relieves my anxiety — just the comfort factor, the familiarity. ”

Whether they are dealing with anxiety, stress, grief, isolation or memory loss, countless people find solace in stuffed animals, weighted blankets, and other soft objects. Researchers and product developers have noticed, and in turn have created, products specifically designed to help alleviate certain ailments. Now there is a smooth robot seal for people with dementia, a teddy bear weight grieving adults and cushions that mimic breathing to help calm people down.

Because this is an emerging field, the science behind why certain objects calm us is still being studied. But Dr David Spiegel, vice chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, says it makes perfect sense for people to find comfort in these objects. “We know children love stuffed animals — they are what we used to call ‘transitional objects’ between being alone and being connected to another human being,” he said. Objects like this may play a similar role in adults. inanimate stuffed.”

A small learn published in 2020 in Journal of Integrative Medicine found that weighted blankets reduced anxiety in psychiatric facility patients who chose to use them, compared with patients who did not. The authors suggest that the calming effect is due to the stimulation of pressure with deep touch, a sensation that a weighted blanket provides that helps calm the nervous system. Again learn published in 2013 in the magazine Psychological Science found that simply hugging a teddy bear can reduce the fear that exists in people with low self-esteem.

Again research published in March 2022 in the magazine PLOS One provided more insight into why these types of objects can provide a sense of comfort. Robot researcher and builder Alice Haynes, a former member of the soft robotics team at the Bristol Robotics Lab in the UK, has teamed up with Annie Lywood, a textile expert who creates products product for people with sensory needs – to test a breathing pad that students can use to relieve pre-exam anxiety.

Students in the test group held an object — a plush, sky-blue, pillow-sized cushion that inflates and deflates automatically, mimicking inhalation and exhalation — for eight minutes before the test. Instead, one control group did guided breathing meditation, while the other control group didn’t do anything special. Haynes and her team found that hugging a stuffed breathing cushion reduced anxiety as much as doing guided meditation.

“This indicates that cushioning may be as effective as a breathing meditation method for anxiety relief,” says Haynes, who is currently completing a postdoctoral fellow at Saarland University in Germany. “We did not provide the students in the test with any instructions on how to use the mattress. We’re not asking them to monitor it with their breath or anything — it’s merely the act of holding it back as it breathes slowly to alleviate their anxiety. I thought we thought it would help with anxiety, but we were surprised that it had the same effect as breathing meditation.”

Lywood – who is now working to commercialize the breathing pad through her company Sooothe – believes the findings highlight our innate need to touch, even if the source is non-human or life, for that matter. “We take it for granted,” she said. But because so many people have been deprived of it during the pandemic, she points out, “we’re rediscovering its value.”

Some comfort items – like breathing pads and weighted blankets – are specifically designed to help relieve stress and anxiety, while others are created to address other health concerns mental and physical. For example, the robotic seal PARO was introduced in 2003 to reduce stress, isolation, and loneliness among elderly people with dementia. Now on its eighth iteration, the cute stuffed seal – which weighs 6 pounds and moves, makes noises and responds to human interactions like a real animal – has been found to also improve improve things like motivation, socialization, and relaxation in this population.

One published research inside Journal of the American Association of Medical Directors in 2017 looked at the use of the PARO seal in more than 400 patients with dementia in long-term care facilities in Queensland, Australia. People who interacted with PARO engaged more verbally and visually and reported feeling more satisfied than people with dementia receiving their usual care. The robotic seal also helps reduce neutral affect – a lack of facial expression can be common in patients with dementia – and makes them less agitated. Interestingly, the study also tested a similar-looking plush toy without the robotic features and found that while PARO was very effective, a simple plush toy was more beneficial. similar benefits.

Sometimes, advanced robots are not needed to make a person feel more comfortable; an ordinary teddy bear will do. When Marcella Johnson lost her fourth child, George, shortly after his birth in 1999, she found herself very uncomfortable with painful sensations in her arms and chest. A week after George died, she visited his grave with her father, who brought her a terracotta pot full of flowers. “The moment I held that cold, hard basin in my arms, the pain in my heart and arm instantly disappeared. It was the first time I felt comfortable, and it was ticking. ”

Soon after, Johnson was reading books about other women who had lost children, and she noticed a surprising and unexpected trend: Many of them were looking for weighty objects to carry with them. One woman carried a 5-pound bag of flour, while another carried a pineapple the weight of her baby. “As I read it, I thought, If it is happening to me and it is happening to all the other women, something should be done. ” She created the Comfort Cub, a 4-pound teddy bear designed for people around the country struggling with infant loss as well as other forms of trauma and grief. “When you put a weight in your hand, it can ease that pain,” says Johnson.

Researchers and inventors in this relatively nascent field are excited by the promise of cuddly weighted objects. Since researching breathing cushions, Haynes began researching wearable sensory textiles, while Lywood began research into a soothing musical accompaniment.

“Design around this sensory need for people of all ages is valuable,” says Lywood. “I feel like we are starting this journey.”

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