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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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