How to Use Your Plushie Amygdala to Feel Braver, Stronger, and Less Anxious

How to Use Your Plushie Amygdala (or any Plushie) to Promote Brave Behaviour

Things don’t feel so bad when they’re shared, and plushie amygdalae are the BEST listeners, excellent protectors, experts in brave behaviour, and superb breathing buddies. Here are just a few of the things you can do with them:

They are the BEST listeners. 

Plushie amygdalae love to listen. They’ll listen to your problems, what you did on the weekend, and why you think celery is a sly little beast that pushes its way into too many dinners. Your plushie will listen to anything. Talk to them about your worries, (they can handle anything), or when you’re sad, mad, jealous, when you’ve messed up, done something fabulous, and when you’re feeling like a rock star. Share your ideas, your fears, your wishes, your gripes and of course, if you make up a hilarious song while you’re in the shower, share that with them too. They’ll love it all. The best thing about plushies is that you can tell them anything – ANYTHING – and they’ll keep everything inside them where their secrets and precious things are kept. 

Why DOES talking help?

We humans have been talking about our problems since the beginning of humans. We don’t necessarily talk to find solutions – though that can be a lovely side-effect. We talk because when we do, we feel better. There’s a very good reason for this, and it’s all backed by science. Everything we do depends on the right and left sides of the brain working well on their own, as well as together. Sometimes though, one side will become more dominant. When feelings or problems feel overwhelming, it’s likely that the right side has taken over. Here’s how it works. The left side of the brain loves words and logic. It is also more associated with optimism. The right side of the brain is more about emotion. It also is designed to pay more attention to negative information, so it can be more associated with pessimism. This is because it’s more important for our survival that we notice threats than that we notice happy things. Big feelings (sadness, anxiety, anger) and overwhelm are a sign that the right side of the brain has taken over a little from the left. This is very normal – it happens to all of us – but without enough involvement from the left side of the brain, feelings and problems can feel overwhelming. When we talk, it brings in the left side of the brain. Talking about problems and your feelings helps the right side and the left side of the brain work more as a team – which is the best way for them to be. 

They can help you feel brave. (It’s their favourite thing to do actually.)

Your amygdala is like your own fierce warrior, there to protect you. Sometimes though, it can work a little too hard and it might try to protect you when there is no need. When your amygdala senses that there’s something it needs to protect you from, it switches on and surges you with a special body fuel to make you stronger, faster and more powerful so you can fight the threat or flee from it – and humiliation, embarrassment, being separated from someone you love, missing out on something important all count as threat to an amygdala that wants to keep you safe. The fight or flight response is great when there is a physical danger you need to fight or escape from, but if there’s no need to run and no need to fight, or if the threat is one that isn’t helped by fight or flight (such as humiliation etc) the special body fuel builds up and this is why anxiety feels the way it does. The great news is that this is very manageable – but it involves you being the boss of your brain and reminding your amygdala that you’re safe, and that you can do hard things. This is a really brave thing to do. Your amygdala is strong – but so are you. The absolute truth is – your amygdala wants you to be brave, and it knows you can be, but sometimes you’ll need to believe it enough for both of you. What are the words your amygdala needs to hear? Perhaps, ‘We can do this,’ or ‘Whatever happens, we’ll be okay,’ or ‘We can do hard things.’ Use those words for yourself when you need to feel brave. It’s exactly what your amygdala needs to hear. When you say them, your amygdala will hear, and it will help you be brave. You and your amydala are a seriously awesome team.

Big feelings. We all get them. But this can help.

When your amygdala thinks there is something is needs to protect you from, it will switch on and get you feeling your feels. Feelings are there for a really good reason, and anxiety has one of the best reasons of all – to keep us safe. Anxiety is a sign that your amygdala is getting you ready to fight a danger or run from it. When this happens, you might feel anxious, angry, or you might burst into tears for no reason. This is a sign that your brain is doing exactly what strong healthy brains do – warn you when something isn’t right to move you into action and keep you safe from harm. Here’s the thing – amygdalae are do-ers, not thinkers so you need to be the boss. Feeling your feels is a great thing to do, but it’s also important to make sure they don’t get too big for you. Imagine your plushie amygdala is feeling big feelings – maybe anxious, or sad, or angry. What would you say to calm it down? What would you say to help it relax and feel safe? Let those words be the words you say to yourself to find calm when your feelings feel big. Perhaps it’s just ‘shhh – relax. I’ve got this,’ or, ‘it’s okay – we’re safe – breathe.’ Whatever words feel good for you will be perfect words to calm your amygdala when your feels feel big.

As a breathing buddy. In. Out. Lovely.

Strong slow, steady breathing initiates the relaxation response, which is a powerful way to ease anxiety and to calm big feelings. Lay your amygdala on your belly. Breathe out, then in for 3, hold for one and out for 3. If your amygdala buddy moves up and down as you breathe, your breathing is perfect. The more you practice, the easier it will be to access strong, slow steady breathing when you need it.

Happy sleeps. Happy humans. Something to try.

As you fall asleep, snuggle the amygdala in close to you. Imagine that it’s falling asleep beside you. Let your movements be calm and gentle so as not to wake your sleeping buddy. Pay close attention to your breathing – feel the air move in and out of your body. Notice the feel of the amygdala beside you, and know that you are safe. This is a form of mindfulness which is a powerful way to strengthen the brain against anxiety and other big feelings.

Just to cuddle (And you’re NEVER too old or too cool for this!)

Because they’re soft and gorgeous and they’ll love it.

 

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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