How do you self-soothe?

 

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Baby Elephant was a gift after my tonsils were removed — age five or six. Sawgy is a stuffed green crocodile my husband brought back from a golf tournament.

 

By Caitlin Kelly

The ability to moderate one’s emotions — especially sadness, fear, anxiety — is one of the skills we all learn to acquire. It’s essential to our mental health, especially in times of trouble, like right now!

It’s called self-soothing.

When we’re little, we might have a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. We might also (as I did for many years) suck our thumb or obsessively twirl a lock of our hair, as I once saw a Big Name writer do in the audience of a writing conference.

This recent post by a therapist is extremely detailed and helpful, with lots of great suggestions.

The reason this interests me is that what we choose is so individual — and this recent story for HuffPost by writer Aileen Weintraub about sleeping with a stuffed animal very quickly drew negative comments:

I can’t remember the magic age when I felt it became taboo to sleep with a soft toy. It may have been after college or perhaps when I landed a job on Wall Street and began wearing business suits. When I ask close friends if they sleep with a stuffy, they scoff, wondering if I’m serious. So I open up the conversation to find out how they self-soothe when they can’t sleep. One confesses to sneaking down to the fridge and eating ice cream out of the container, another obsessively reads medical mysteries, and another says she pets her real dog more than she feels is normal by other people’s standards, whatever those are.

Stuffed toys are “transitional objects,” meaning they provide stability and comfort for children when their caregivers aren’t there. But maybe we are always transitioning. Becoming a parent is a transition. Heading into middle age is a transition. Right now, we are collectively transitioning through a pandemic. Admitting this can be hard. We keep these secrets to ourselves, letting only a select few witness our vulnerabilities. It goes against every cultural norm we have learned to honestly discuss our need for softness and comfort because perhaps by acknowledging it, we are acknowledging our deepest insecurities.

In the light of day, I might consider myself a confident, successful woman, but at night I’m reminded that I run on anxiety and self-doubt, and George makes it better. Sometimes I sleep with him on top of my chest like a weighted blanket.

I’ve long had a collection of stuffed animals and have no shame or embarrassment about it as an adult.

I don’t use drugs — while others do.

I don’t drink a lot of alcohol — as others do.

Both are perfectly acceptable ways, publicly, to self-soothe as an adult.

rhiney

Yay, Rhiny!

 

Not a stuffy!

I want to wake up and go to sleep feeling calm and happy — and if the faces of a collection of small furry friends is helpful — who is there to criticize that choice?

 

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This little guy traveled across six European countries with me in the summer of 2017, no doubt amusing many hotel chambermaids.

 

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23 thoughts on “How do you self-soothe?

  1. I self-soothe, though not with stuffed animals. Not anymore, anyway. Some of my methods, I’m trying to break, such as eating sugary sweets when I’m stressed. Others are a bit more helpful, especially when dealing with an anxiety disorder on top of being on the spectrum. I watch my favorite anime, listen to hypnosis tracks, and do a ton of writing. Lately, with the pandemic, I’ve been finding ways to put my anxiety over COVID-19 into my stories. It may be why I’m dealing with the pandemic better than any of my siblings are (though they’re dealing with a lot more than I am, admittedly).

  2. Jan Jasper

    I started sleeping with a stuffed animal when my beloved dog died. I’ve been single for a couple years, and my Miniature Schnauzer always slept in the bed with me. She was such a comfort, and her death, while expected due to her advanced age, was a huge loss. A stuffed plush panda isn’t as good as a dog, but it helped.
    I know I snack to excess. Have gained weight during this pandemic.

    1. Glad you have a stuffy! And so sorry about your dog…it’s a very tough loss.

      So have many of us. I realized (*obvious) that food and drink are reliable and affordable comforts when so many other pleasures are now out of reach. So I think we need to be kind to ourselves!

  3. I have an old, worn sock monkey that I love and I always bring it to school to share with my kinder. I encourage them to bring something soothing to school with them, and to share why it is special with the others if they choose. it is so interesting to hear a 3 year old say, “I’ve had this bunny since I was little…” and each child has their unique item, I love seeing what they bring. we talk about how they help us, and other ways to calm ourselves and to feel better if we are anxious, sick, or lonely. it is amazing what they offer to the conversation.

  4. The Montreal Cat Lady

    This was extremely interesting to read. I don’t sleep with a stuffed animal but I absolutely crave having my cat sleep by me so I can pet him while trying to fall asleep. It is incredibly soothing and makes me feel less alone when I’m in bed (my partner goes to sleep much later than me). We definitely shouldn’t judge whatever helps people especially if it does no harm to them. We need to all make an effort to keep judgements to ourselves and try to grow out of the habit of judging people. I know I’m definitely working on it. It’s not easy.

  5. I love snuggles with my dog when I need comfort. And being outside – walking in the fresh air helps me process things and work through anxious moments.

    I’ve bookmarked the list of recommendations you shared in this post – very helpful!

  6. Alice, our stuffed bunny, my husband Barry and I call our Higher Power. She meditates with us and I take her to bed with me as I retire earlier than him. She’s a great comfort.
    We have three stuffed animals: Tricky, my teddy bear, dates from when I was two years old; Nameless, Barry’s stuffed gorilla, was a gift in the early 80s, and Alice, who we got in the mid 90s. Interestingly, stuffed animals have become squishier and squishier over the decades. Tricky is very hard, Nameless moderately, and Alice is soft as a marshmallow. I’m sure this reflects changing cultural perceptions of children.

  7. tabbycatwillow

    I love patting my cat, and thankfully she can be a huge cuddle-bug sometimes (although it’s not uncommon for her to get in the way frequently when I’m busy). One of my favourite moments is when she decides to get into bed with me and snuggle on my chest for a while, purring in my ear.

    In my mid-20’s, I still have a collection of stuffies, some of which are from my childhood. Unfortunately I don’t have the room at the moment to display many of them, but I do have a soft purple door-stopper at my bedroom door. It’s very rare that I use a stuffy to self-soothe, but I recently had a moment where I needed something that I was able to hug tightly, which there was no way that I could do with my cat, not that she’d even put up with it. Guess what I used? Yes, my purple unicorn door stopper. I’m even waiting to receive a stuffy that a friend has sent me because they know that I’ve been going through a rough patch lately.

    As I’ve said to others before, there is nothing wrong with having stuffies as an adult, or even needing them for comfort. As for sleeping with them? Well, sometimes it gets pretty dang lonely, sleeping by yourself.

    1. I get it! Cats can be very comforting — but stuffies never scratch!

      I have a good friend who lives in Arizona and when she came to NY for a visit insisted (!) we drive out to the aquarium to visit a baby walrus. As one does. But it was winter and we couldn’t see it — in the gift shop she bought a fab stuffed (!) octopus which I much admired and, I admit, envied.

      A few weeks later — ta-dah! — she sent me one. Now we relentlessly send one another anything octopus related on Twitter and FB.

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