Today is Stuffed Animal Day in my Family Living classes. In our unit on stress I get the kids to bring a stuffed animal of any size or type to school with them and to carry it around all day. I’m sure this sounds unusual but bear with me.
We all have stress in our lives and some of it is really positive and motivates us and gives us the energy to get things done, make changes, ask for help etc. For many of us though, our stress load can overwhelm us with disastrous consequences! Ulcers, heart attacks, asthma, digestive issues, all can be caused or made worse by too much stress. At the beginning of the unit we do two self-evaluations. One looks at the load of stressors (events and issues which cause stress). The other looks at our bodies stress load level. Out of almost 60 students we had none who were in the low risk category on either scale, very few in the middle, and most people were off the scale. And we wonder why there are issues with teen suicide!
Our environment can have a major impact on our stress levels. For some people there is nothing which pumps up their stress like a messy desk. For me, too much quiet, or too much noise can be negative. When you wander around a positive office area you will see little personal touches that people have brought into the space to make it their own. Having something handy to make you smile is a powerful stress busting tool.
At several stress seminars I have attended we began by putting on clown noses. It is really hard to take yourself too seriously if you have a clown nose on with your business suit.
When we were babies our parents likely gave us some sort of stuffed toy, soft to the touch, a little squishy, with a pleasant face. This is often known as a comfort toy and that is exactly the role they take on. Some kids carry their stuffed toy everywhere with them. They can use them to reflect their own emotional state, and just holding them and stroking their fur has a calming effect.
Adults usually don’t have a stuffed toy with them wherever they go. Many actually got rid of all them as a sign of being “grown up.” That being said, the basic effect of a stuffed animal does not go away. If you don’t agree go to the toy section sometime and watch the adults when they are picking out a teddy bear for their child.
Back to Stuffed Animal Day; I can’t do very much to relieve the stress with which my students are struggling on a daily basis. I can teach them about what it is, ideas for relaxation techniques etc. but when they arrive in my classroom with their stuffed animals, even if they have been hidden in a backpack, I see them smiling, sharing stories with others about where they got them etc. I don’t think it is possible to look at your stuffed animal sitting there on your desk or peeking out of your bag, without at least briefly feeling positive. That one moment can make a difference in the way you approach things during the day.
Are you still skeptical about the idea? Many of my students are even after doing the activity. You can’t reach everyone with the same strategy, of course. One young man this morning brought a large stuffed lion. He is a very pleasant student who dresses a little differently and doesn’t really socialize in the class. Throughout today’s class he had his lion on his lap and rested his chin on its head. He looked so relaxed. As I sat at the front with my little stuffed dog I knew that for at least that one student a little bit of fluff made his day!