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Using Comfort Objects for Anxiety

Using Comfort Objects for Anxiety

Anxiety: A Common Challenge

Anxiety affects over 40 million adults in the United States, making it a prevalent mental health issue. While traditional treatments like therapy and medication are vital, alternative methods, such as comfort objects, offer additional support during acute moments of panic. Comfort objects, or “transitional objects” and “tactile soothers,” range from childhood blankets to adult fidgets, providing a sense of easefamiliarity, and security.

Exploring Comfort Objects for Anxiety Management

This article delves into the use of comfort objects for anxiety in adults, highlighting:

  • Why they are effective
  • How to select a resonating object
  • Best practices for integration into treatment plans
  • Potential benefits and limitations

The Science Behind Comfort Objects

Despite seeming simple, comfort objects are backed by science, offering tangible relief through mechanisms like activating the parasympathetic nervous system and releasing oxytocin among other feel-good hormones.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System

  • Weighted blankets or stuffed animals can trigger a feeling of being swaddled or hugged, engaging the body’s rest-and-digest functions. This stimulation is linked to slower heart rates and lower blood pressure, fostering calmness.

Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Dopamine

  • Contact with comfort objects stimulates the release of oxytocin (“love hormone”), serotonin, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters elevate mood and reduce cortisol levels, mimicking the effects of human touch.

Tactile Stimulation

  • The sensory receptors under the skin respond to tactile stimulation from comfort objects, sending signals that activate a calming response, reduce cortisol production, and enhance feelings of security.

Deep Pressure Therapy

  • Techniques like weighted blankets offer deep pressure across the body, shown to significantly reduce anxiety. This gentle pressure decreases activity in the brain’s amygdala, alleviating anxiety and emotional reactions.

Incorporating Comfort Objects into Anxiety Management

When choosing a comfort object, consider:

  • Emotional resonance: The object should evoke a sense of peace or comfort.
  • Tactile preference: Consider the texture and weight that feels most soothing.

Best Practices:

  • Integrate comfort objects as part of a broader treatment plan.
  • Use them as a tool for immediate relief in stressful situations.

For More Insight:

Comfort objects are more than mere items; they are a bridge to emotional well-being, offering a scientifically supported method to soothe anxiety. Whether you’re embracing a childhood blanket or a newly acquired fidget, these objects serve as a tactile reminder of security and peace in a bustling world.

Choosing a Comfort Object

While the science explains why comfort objects impart anxiety relief on a biological level, choosing an object with personal emotional resonance is key to experiencing the calming benefits. Mental health experts emphasize tuning into textures, materials and shapes that align with individual preferences.

Common Types

Some of the most common types of comfort objects include:

Stuffed animals – Stuffed animals can offer a surrogate hug when human contact is unavailable. Soft, squishy stuffed animals are ideal for cuddling and holding close.

Blankets – Blankets provide warmth and mimic the comforting feeling of being tucked in. Choose textures and weights based on personal preference.

Fidget toys – Fidget toys give anxious hands something to keep busy with. They come in endless shapes and textures to suit sensory inclinations.

Stress balls – Squeezing a stress ball can divert focus from worried thoughts. Tactile sensations like squishing or molding provide sensory relief.

Weighted blankets – Weighted blankets deliver deep pressure that can have an immediate anxiety-reducing effect. Many feature soft, cozy fabrics adding to the soothing qualities.

Matching Textures and Shapes to Preferences

When selecting a comfort object, consider whether you gravitate towards soft, squishy textures or prefer smooth, cool surfaces. Do you enjoy kneading playdough or molding putty? What objects fill you with a sense of calm at home? By tuning into these tactile preferences, you can find a comfort object providing optimal sensory relief.

Shape and size also matter from an ergonomic perspective. If choosing a handheld fidget toy, ensure it fits comfortably in your hand. For whole body coverage, you may want an oversized stuffed animal you can wrap your arms around or a weighted blanket sized to your bed. Think through when and how you will be using the object to determine the ideal texture, shape and dimensions.

Allowing Personalization

Personalizing your comfort object can further enhance feelings of emotional closeness. For example, build-your-own weighted stuffed animals allow you to customize the fabric, scent, accessories and even recordable voice box. Other ideas include:

  • Naming your stuffed animal or blanket
  • Creating your own fabric case for a stress ball
  • Adding an inspirational patch to a weighted lap pad
  • Selecting a soothing, familiar scent for a stuffed animal

Finding an object aligning with your tactile preferences that you can make uniquely yours establishes a deeper sense of comfort and security.

Using Comfort Objects Effectively

While comfort objects impart benefits on their own, following best practices can enhance their anxiety-alleviating effects. Recommendations vary based on setting and age.

Inpatient Psychiatric Settings

For severe anxiety requiring inpatient psychiatric treatment, weighted blankets, stuffed animals, and textured sensory tools can provide coping mechanisms to deescalate panic. However, hard or detachable components may be restricted for safety reasons. Hospitals may limit patient belongings upon intake but can provide approved comfort items.

Outpatient Therapy Sessions

Incorporating comfort objects into outpatient psychotherapy provides anxiety relief patients can tap into while recounting distressing memories or incidents sparking trauma. The regulation afforded by self-soothing with an object can enable clients to remain emotionally present during tough sessions. Therapists may recommend items to try or collaborate with clients to discover their preferences.

At Home and School

Used independently at home, school or work, comfort objects empower individuals to take control of anxiety as soon as distressing symptoms emerge. Keeping an object easily accessible enables prompt response to rising panic, worry, or agitation. This builds self-efficacy to manage anxiety without depending solely on medications or external interventions.

Children vs Adults

While stuffed animals and blankets remain popular childhood comfort objects, adults may prefer more discreet items like handheld fidgets. However, many adults continue finding solace in beloved childhood objects like tattered blankets. No matter the age, mental health experts emphasize empowering clients to choose what provides comfort without judgment or stigma.

Treatment Plans and Therapy Goals

Occupational therapists may incorporate comfort objects into treatment plans focusing on sensory processing disorders, trauma recovery, or anxiety management. Rather than an isolated technique, the object becomes integrated within goal setting and skill building around self-regulation. Tracking usage and effectiveness helps gauge progress over time.

Benefits and Limitations

Research and anecdotal evidence indicates robust benefits to using comfort objects for anxiety including reducing panic, easing sleep issues, and boosting social confidence. However, dependence or avoidance of larger issues remain potential limitations requiring ongoing evaluation.

Reducing Anxiety

Studies clearly demonstrate comfort objects can decrease anxiety and worry both physically and emotionally. In a 2022 experimental study published in PLOS One, holding a “breathing cushion” that mimics inhaling and exhaling reduced anxiety as effectively as doing a breathing meditation. Users also described feeling more relaxed, comfortable and soothed. Similarly, multiple studies confirm weighted blankets provide immediate anxiety relief.

Improving Sleep

The calming effects of comfort objects additionally enable falling asleep more easily and sleeping more soundly. A survey by mattress company Amerisleep found 53% of Americans who used weighted blankets experienced better sleep. By reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation before bed, comfort objects pave the way for improved sleep quality.

Increasing Social Interaction

While not as widely studied, emerging research points to comfort objects easing social anxiety and boosting confidence in public situations. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Social Robotics found that pre-adolescents tasked with delivering a speech in front of peers while holding a vibrating stuffed animal experienced less anxiety than the control group.

Risk of Dependence

Critics argue that relying too heavily on external objects to provide comfort long-term risks dependence, preventing developing internal coping skills. This makes it vital to balance use of comfort objects with learning therapeutic techniques as part of a multifaceted anxiety treatment plan.

Avoidance of Underlying Issues

Similarly, some mental health professionals caution that comfort objects may provide temporary symptom relief without confronting deeper roots of anxiety or trauma. Ongoing work with therapists to process and heal from sources of distress is key rather than solely masking anxiety with external aids.

Choosing Materials for Safety and Comfort

When selecting comfort objects for babies and young children especially, prioritizing safety is paramount. Reputable brands like Lil’ Biscuits manufacture plush toys with stitched eyes and embroidered features to eliminate choking hazards. They also use quality fabrics tested for durability and gentleness on young skin.

For children and adults, understanding what plushies are made of allows assessing potential allergens or irritants. While many contain synthetic fiberfill stuffing, some incorporate foam, air pockets or natural fibers like organic cotton. Identifying fillers and fabrics matching sensitivities and safety needs ensures optimal comfort.

Luxury Options for Premium Comfort

For those seeking extra-plush softness and opulent textures like cashmere and chenille, high-end brands like Luxurious Baby Plush offer luxury comfort objects sparing no expense. The top-tier materials and expert craftsmanship impart superior huggability and sensory stimulation through diverse woven and knitted textiles. While expensive, the unparalleled quality promises becoming baby’s cherished lovey for years.

While personal preferences guide comfort object selections, some retain enduring, widespread appeal across generations. According to sales data aggregated by the Toy Association, consistently top-selling stuffed animals include:

  • Teddy bears
  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Bunnies
  • Monkeys

Brands like Jellycat with entire lines devoted to these cuddly creatures reveal their sustained popularity for imparting comfort and joy.


Harnessing the power of comfort objects shows immense promise for giving anxiety sufferers a fast-acting tool for relief without side effects. Backed by scientific evidence regarding sensory pathways, these items provide a safe, accessible way to manage anxiety. While not a cure-all, they have the capacity to calm the body in the moment, enable sleep and empower people to confront challenges. Continued innovation around evidence-based tactile therapies combined with smart incorporation into multifaceted treatment plans can optimize comfort objects’ anxiety-alleviating superpowers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: At what age can babies start using comfort objects?

A: Experts recommend introducing comfort objects around 3 to 6 months old once babies begin deliberately grasping items. Choose soft toys sized for tiny hands and safe for chewing.

Q: How do I clean comfort objects?

A: Check manufacturer instructions as some may require special washing methods. In general, use a gentle machine cycle and air dry. For items like weighted blankets, spot clean by hand only.

Q: Can adults use pacifiers as comfort objects?

A: While less common, adults can use pacifiers to self-soothe. Choose an adult-sized, orthodontic model made from silicone/rubber instead of plastic. Monitor excessive use and be wary of judgment from others.

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