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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‘Brave’ doesn’t always feel like certain, or strong, or ready. In fact, it rarely does. That what makes it brave.♥️
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We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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