THE STUFFED ANIMALS ON MY BED
I have a confession to make: I keep a family of five stuffed elephants on my queen-sized bed.
It’s not just that I love elephants and think they’re beautiful, intelligent animals; my stuffed elephants help me cope with anxiety and depression. I don’t take them everywhere with me; they stay on my bed. Nor do I always hold them close every night. But just having them there is enough to put me at ease when I go to bed.
Somehow, I had a hunch that I couldn’t be the only adult who sleeps with stuffed animals. In 2017, the Build-a-Bear Workshop commissioned a survey of some 2,000 American adults. Turns out, more than half of survey respondents said they currently own a toy animal, and 40% said the animal joins them at bedtime (Steingold, 2017). A Travelodge survey, which polled 6,000 British adults, found that 35% sleep with a teddy bear (Llorens, 2012).
There’s even a name for people who like stuffed animals: plushophiles. The reasons for plushophilia may vary. Some adults like to collect stuffed animals, in the same way that my father collected stamps. For others, a toy animal allows them to relieve the stress of adult responsibilities and pretend to be a child again, creating storylines and personalities as they interact with the animal. And for others, stuffed animals can be a coping tool for a variety of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, or healing from trauma (Kirkpatrick, 2022). The latter reason may be why adult plushophilia remains relatively taboo, since even in this day and age, mental health still carries stigma.
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
A 2013 study from VU University Amsterdam found that people with low self-esteem often struggle with existential concerns, particularly death anxiety. A brief physical touch, whether real or simulated, can alleviate such anxiety and promote a feeling of social connectedness. While a toy animal is not a person, nor is it a live pet like a cat, it can simulate interpersonal touch (Koole et. al, 2013).
With millennials moving more frequently than older generations (Falcon, 2019), a stuffed animal provides a familiar stability, especially when a person is overwhelmed with change. The animal won’t leave or die, and it will always be there for cuddling (Ben-Moche, 2017).
In my case, I haven’t moved in more than four years, but I struggle with anxiety. According to a 2022 study by British researcher and roboticist Alice Haynes, anxiety is the ninth leading cause of global disability; holding a soft, huggable cushion can be as effective at easing anxiety as a guided meditation (Haynes et. al., 2022). Similar to the cushion, stuffed animals may not be a cure, but they can be an affordable, non-pharmacological tactile intervention for managing anxiety. So cuddle away!
It’s Fetch is a community that provides a safe space for members to discuss health and wellness topics. We provide access to archived health related content, note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content shared, regardless of date should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
-Written by Laura Miller