Teddy bears trigger a sense of security, peace and comfort. But why?
When a child hugs you and says, ‘I love you, mummy’ or ‘I love you, daddy’—how do you feel?
Similarly, how do you feel when a cuddly pet smooches your face or sidles up close?
Nine out of ten people say a spontaneous hug from a child or affection from a pet lifts their self-esteem and boosts their sense of worth.
Behind the scenes in the brain, comfort hugs trigger the release of oxytocin and serotonin—the ‘feel-good’ hormones. But there is more at play than hormones that give us warm fuzzy feelings.
Research suggests oxytocin has a positive effect on social behaviours related to relaxation, trust and supporting mental health. Plus when present in certain parts of the brain, oxytocin decreases stress and anxiety levels.
Meanwhile, serotonin stabilises mood, thus contributing to feelings of wellbeing and happiness.
So what’s going on when adults hug a teddy bear?
Huggles at the start of his therapy bear journey.
Comfort bear therapy
While a hug from a child or smooch from a pet releases feel-good hormones, so does hugging a teddy.
However, unlike a hug from a child or a smooch from a pet, the teddy bear is triggering happy memories from earlier years when unconditional love and support gave a sense of safety and security.
Traditionally, teddy bears are not high on the list of psychological tools used to help adults deal with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Yet, over the years, Huggles has proven his worth tenfold as my practice’s ‘go-to’ comfort bear.
Huggles at work
During counselling sessions, clients who need a moment to collect their thoughts, pick up Huggles. At that moment, Huggles acts as a circuit breaker giving instant relief from emotional discomfort.
Many studies have shown that a comfort object like a teddy bear increases emotional wellbeing, coping skills, resilience, self-esteem and sleep because the object triggers self-soothing behaviour.
Travelodge teddy bear study
Before the COVID pandemic, the hotel chain Travelodge polled about 6,000 people after trying to track down the rightful owners of 75,000 displaced stuffed animals-including teddy bears.
Ten per cent of women polled said they treated their teddy bear as a good friend, while 25 per cent of males said they bring their teddy bears on business trips because they are a comforting reminder of home.
Of the respondents polled, most said they trusted their toys with their secrets plus, snuggling them at night gave a sense of comfort, resulting in better quality sleep.
Adults confessing their bedtime ritual includes placing their comfort bear under their pillow or on the nightstand is not new to me.
Following are some of the many reasons I’ve heard.
“Fuzzball smells like home and feels like a hug from a friend.”
“Booboo keeps me feeling safe when undergoing treatment at the hospital.”
“Bluey is always there and ready to listen after a hard day at work.”
“Rachel got me through chemo when I felt alone.”
“Floppy is a little piece of home no matter where I travel.”
“Zoe soaks up my tears and listens when anxiety or depression takes me down.”
“Patch keeps me calm because he takes me straight back to my boyhood days when I didn’t worry about anything.”
6 Ways your comfort bear can help at home
If putting pen to paper is easy for you, place Bear on your writing desk. Chat about why you’re finding it hard to express your thoughts. Afterwards, watch how the words flow.
Like humans, young dogs can have trouble sleeping. And if Puppy isn’t sleeping, nor are you. Try placing Bear in Puppy’s bed at night. That way, Puppy can smell your scent and feel secure throughout the night.
When your productivity cycles are getting shorter, and your to-do list longer, it’s time for a comfort bear intervention.
Place Bear in his least favourite place. That way you know he’ll be angry, right? Promise Bear you’ll come back after you’ve completed the first task on your list.
Finish your first task and come back to Bear. Give him a big hug and say, “See, I told you I’d get it done and come back.”
Anxiety around writing—whether it be assignments or the novel you said you’d finish—leads to procrastination. So to nip that cycle in the bud, hold Bear when you feel stuck for words. The trick is to train yourself to think ‘when I hold Bear my mind relaxes, and the words flow.’ Try it for yourself. It’s worked for others.
When anxiety threatens to overwhelm, hold Bear and inhale deeply before exhaling slowly. Repeat three times. With practice, Bear becomes your ‘anxiety’ circuit breaker.
If soothing calm music before bed isn’t lulling you into a good night’s sleep, try a comfort bear. In a recent survey of 6,000 British adults—one-third said, taking a teddy to bed is a ‘comforting and calming way to end the day’.
Do you have a comfort bear? Share your story with me.
In my experience, hugging a comfort bear evokes a sense of peace, security and safety for many people. So if you’re looking for a self-soothing tool to control anxiety, worry, or fear, try a comfort bear. Otherwise, come and see Huggles and me. We can help.