We often think that stuffed animals are just for children, but if you can get them to admit it, many adults have stuffed animals too! A 2018 study shows that 43% of adults have a special stuffed friend, and 84% of men versus 77% of women admit to owning at least one. The most popular stuffed animal for adults is the time-honored teddy bear. But what benefits do these stuffie friends offer their adult owners?
1. Stuffed Animals Bring a Sense of Security
It’s probably not surprising that adults use stuffed animals and loveys in much the same way that children do; they offer a sense of security during times of change. These are referred to as “comfort objects,” or “transitional objects,” and they can help us feel a greater sense of security when moving from one life stage to another, or even from one job or one house to another. According to Margaret Van Ackeren, licensed therapist, “In most instances, adults sleep with childhood stuffed animals because it brings them a sense of security and reduces negative feelings, such as loneliness and anxiety.” That sense of security is important when things are in flux, helping us navigate change more successfully.
2. Stuffed Animals Help Ease Loneliness
The modern world can feel lonely and alienating for adults, even when we’re surrounded by people. In fact, there’s evidence that even as we become more and more linked together by the internet, we may be getting lonelier. Humans are social creatures, and we suffer without the company of others. While stuffed animals cannot completely replace the social role that other humans play in our lives, they can help ease feelings of loneliness and alienation, helping us cope with the interconnected and lonely modern world.
3. Stuffed Animals Improve Mental Health
Live animals have been gaining visibility as a therapeutic tool, but did you know that stuffed animals can help in a lot of the same ways that live animals do? According to one study, stuffed animals helped patients with disorganized attachment styles form secure attachments and even rebuild impaired attachment bonds. Being able to build secure emotional attachments can help people live richer, happier lives. According to Dr. Aniko Dunn, stuffed animals are “... recommended in psychotherapy and for people suffering from PTSD, bipolar and other mental disorders.” What an incredible gift!
4. Stuffed Animals Can Help Us Grieve
Stuffed animals can represent a connection to a loved one that has passed, giving us a path through the grieving process and easing the feeling of loss that accompanies the death of someone close to us. In fact, you can order Memory Bears, a stuffed teddy bear sewn with the clothing of your deceased friend or family member, in order to connect you more firmly to your memories of that person. You can grieve with a stuffed animal without worrying about judgement of censure, and they offer a constant source of comfort.
5. Stuffed Animals Help Us Heal From Trauma
Stuffed animals are used in some kinds of therapy! Stuffed animals can be useful in some kinds of “re-parenting,” in which a trauma survivor learns to care for and love the stuffed animal (and eventually themselves) to recover from traumatic experiences in childhood. This can increase happiness and self-esteem in the trauma sufferer, and decrease feelings of self-loathing. According to Rose M. Barlow, Professor of Psychology at Boise State University, “Animals, live or stuffed, can aid therapy for both children and adults by providing a way to experience and express emotions, a feeling of unconditional support, and grounding.” She extends this to those who are healing from trauma resulting from childhood neglect or abuse.
6. Stuffed Animals Remind us of Childhood
Nostalgia is a psychological state of “pleasant remembering.” While memories of the past can be troubling, those that feel nostalgic typically make us happier, and result in better self-esteem. Pleasant memories of the past can make us feel more connected to our families and friends, and can provide a sense of continuity to a life that may seem chaotic. Nostalgia can even ease existential fears, like the fear of death. According to Dr. Christine Batcho, Professor of Psychology at LeMoyne College, nostalgia can help us deal with times of change. She says, “... it's comforting to have a nostalgic feeling for the past that reminds us that although we don't know what the future is going to bring, what we do know is that we know who we have been and who we really are.” What better vessel for nostalgia than a childhood stuffed animal or lovey? These may bring memories of parents, of playtime with siblings, of snuggling and of safety. Stuffed animals give us a way to indulge in those feelings when we need them most.
7. Stuffed Animals Reduce Stress
We know from various studies that interacting with animals reduces stress. In fact, something as simple as petting a companion animal, like a dog or cat, causes measurable reduction in levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol can cause a number of physiological problems, including weight gain and increasing the likelihood of coronary disease. But did you know that touching a soft stuffed animal can have similar cortisol reducing effects? Touching stuffed animals helps to relieve stress, keeping us happier and healthier. In fact, stuffed animals specifically for stress and anxiety exist! Weighted stuffed animals and aromatherapeutic stuffed animals are designed to help relieve stress, giving a double dose of comfort from your stuffed pals.