By Olivia K Pitkethly, MA, LMHC | Photo by Allison Raber
As children, most of us had that one special item we loved to snuggle. A soft blanket, a stuffed animal or a comfortable pillow might have made us feel safe, calm or comforted. But as we got older, these once important items end up on the floor, the shelf or (gasp!) the trash. We just outgrow them. Or do we?
A 2012 study by the hotel chain Travelodge found that 35 percent of adults in Britain still sleep with a stuffed animal to help them de-stress. Twenty-five percent of the men in the survey admitted to taking their teddy bears with them on business trips.
I took an informal poll of my friends and was pleasantly surprised at how many of them still slept with a stuffed animal or special pillow for comfort, security and sentimental reasons.
Kathleen Myre, wife and mother of two grown children, said she has been sleeping with a sock monkey for three years. “My uncle had been diagnosed with cancer and had been given months to live,” she said. “I gave him a sock monkey as a gift to make him laugh. What started out as a gag gift became so much more when he named it George after one of his uncles.”
Myre bought her own “George” later that day and began sleeping with it. Her uncle died a few weeks later and she has continued to snuggle with it.
“It made me feel connected to my uncle. It was a small symbol of the love I had for him,” she said. “I can sleep without it, but I prefer not to.”
Donna Spencer sleeps with a stuffed moose named Roosevelt. “My husband gave him to me as a gift when I was in the hospital early in our marriage,” she said. “Roosevelt is not a necessary item, but helps when I have trouble sleeping.”
The emotional and psychological impact of a stuffed animal is profound. In a series of studies published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers found that people with low self-esteem experienced less anxiety about dying when they were touching a teddy bear. This simple, tactile comfort, no matter how brief, can go a long way in decreasing existential angst.
Karen Benzi, an oncology nurse and retired Navy senior chief petty officer, said she purchased a pillow before her first deployment to Dubai in 2000. “I did a lot of traveling between different places as the missions dictated,” she said. “I could be staying at a hotel or living in a tent or abandoned building, so I needed to pack light. The pillow and exhaustion were a constant, though sleep was not.”
Benzi slept with her pillow between and during all four of her deployments. “My last deployment ended in 2008 and I continued to sleep with it,” she said. “Never super anxious if I didn’t have it, but felt somewhat compelled to have it with me to sleep.”
So, if you are holding on to a treasured item from childhood, or even adulthood, know that you are not alone. Comfort can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.