For years I have struggled with anxiety and depression. A combination of my brain makeup and life events work together like an evil superhero partnership to effectively play havoc on my life from time to time but with my dream team – my psychologist, some medication and a great support network I take on this villainous attack until I am victorious.
But it wasn’t until a recent visit to my psychologist that a significant element of what plagues me, my anxiety, was explained in a way that made total sense. On table from a previous patient sat a mutant shaped blue plush toy.
Immediately I gravitated toward it and picked it up. “What is this?” I asked. “It is an amygdala,” my psychologist responded. “A what?” I asked her (was I meant to know what this meant?) And then she explained to me, the way she had probably explained to the patient before (a child), with the aid of the plush toy and a book, ‘Hey Warrior’, in which this strange looking fellow was the star and for the first time in my seven or so years of being diagnosed with anxiety, I finally understood. I understood the way it began, how it overcame your mind and body, and how thinking and training yourself to challenge and actively tame your thoughts can assist in its treatment and prevention.
Not only did I finally understand the cause and effect connections, but I saw that through the aid of this toy and this book that it could really help other kids (and adults) have much more active control over their thinking and positive mental health. So as a brief introduction to the best tool I have encountered for my anxiety, here are a list of some of the positive effects it can have and how you can use it.
1. Understanding your brain, specifically the amygdala.
So, this small part of your brain that I cannot pronounce is quite a force field. It is the part that senses and protects us from danger, it creates a sensation in our minds that makes us take notice that something is different, and we should take notice. The book names the amygdala ‘Warrior’, it is a sort of superhero, a part of our mind that is there to look after us. Understanding that the amygdala has this function is significant for everyone to know, especially those who suffer anxiety. Realising that it is normal for your brain to do this and everyone’s does is a powerful piece of information.
2. Naming your amygdala.
Because this book and the Warrior character are primarily aimed at children (to my disappointment) kids are encouraged to name their amygdala (whether they have the toy or not). This personalises it for children and makes it relatable and fun. Being able to use their own amygdala’s name allows them a power and ability to talk about how they are feeling and how they can try and take control of these feelings in a straight forward way.
3. It explains anxiety on an understandable level.
Anxiety is a reaction that some people experience after receiving the alert from our amygdala. Our bodies may respond quite strongly and create the sensations of dizziness, shortness of breath, overactive emotions and sweating, this is anxiety. The book lists the symptoms but also explains why they are felt. The language it uses, and the illustrations make understanding this simple, engaging and straightforward (perhaps why I finally got it.)
4. It outlines strategies to deal with anxiety.
This book is really about giving children the tools and belief that they have control and power over how they feel. It discusses deep breathing and mindfulness and emphasises that we all have the ability to take charge, that we can beat anxiety.
5. The ‘Warrior’ toy is so cute!
Well to be honest it is a bit of a mutant but a cute one. It is soft, cuddly and ultimately it is a friend who is there to protect you, just one that sometimes gives us the wrong feelings to deal with the problem. But because our amygdala is a friend it will always listen and sometimes it just needs to be tamed a little. The fact that it is tangible too also helps make anxiety seem more ‘real’ in way as well because you can see it and touch it.
6. It actually discusses mental health.
Having an open and honest conversation around mental health and mental health issues is such a positive and powerful action. Beginning this dialogue at a young age allows a great understanding, increases tolerance and acceptance of those who suffer from it and it normalises something that is so common but has been so stigmatised.
As soon as I went home that night I showed a photo of the ‘Warrior’ to my daughters, they loved it. After explaining to them what it was (and that you can name your own) discussions have already begun about how Starlight and Batman (their amygdala’s names) are making them feel and what we need to say and do to these amygdala’s to put them back in control of their emotions. So needless to say, we have two (possibly three) plush amygdala on order on their way to our house.
You can order the book and toy from the author of ‘Hey Warrior’, Karen Young’s website. The site also contains other great psychological resources and tools for helping improve mental health in children.