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Mental Health

“I Eased Years of Stress by Hugging a Weighted Stuffed Animal!”

A few years ago, I would get into bed dreading another long night of tossing and turning. My mind would race with anxious thoughts for hours and the only thing that helped—though it may seem odd—was the weight of my partner, Mike’s, arm on me.

It didn’t take more than a couple of weeks to realize ‘the arm’ wasn’t a sustainable solution. But as a health and wellness journalist and editor, I knew the science of weighted pressure was sound. And this set me on a journey to create a product that would not only help me find peace, calm and better sleep, but help thousands of others like me.

What Are the Benefits of a Weighted Stuffed Animal?

Weighted pressure, or “deep touch pressure”—think the calming weighted x-ray vest at the dentist’s office—has a variety of health benefits and brings on a relaxation response from the parasympathetic nervous system, easing stress and helping with sleep. Essentially, it tamps down a fight-or-flight response—lowering the stress hormone cortisol and stimulating production of “calming” neurotransmitters oxytocin and dopamine, helping you feel calm, grounded, safe and secure.

Its most popular use has been with the weighted blanket, which has worked for many so I decided to give it a try. But for me it was uncomfortably hot, and I’d inevitably wake up overheated, kick off the blanket and spiral once again in my anxious thoughts.

There has to be another option, I thought, researching other weighted items, from weighted vests, lap pads and even stuffed animals. But there was always something that didn’t quite meet my criteria in each: they weren’t aesthetically pleasing, many were cheaply made and the weighted stuffed animals—that I wanted to like—always had their weight concentrated in a lump in the middle, rather than spread throughout.

I went to the New York Toy Fair as a journalist to see if any of the plush companies were making a high-quality weighted stuffed animal, but no. Suddenly, a light bulb flared: If it doesn’t exist, why don’t I make it myself?

What Should I Look For in a Weighted Stuffed Animal?

Having never created a weighted stuffed animal before, I tapped the expertise of top experts—including occupational therapists, psychologists, and product designers—to design each detail of my plush. Naming the line “Hugimals”, I ironed out everything, from the plush’s ideal weight (4.5 pounds), facial expression (neutral to support a range of emotions in a no-judgment zone), their calming colors (inspired by river stones), and most importantly, their removable weighted insert, which serves two important purposes: to make Hugimals machine washable, and to distribute weight throughout their body for the feeling that they’re hugging you back.

On first use, my Hugimal was the perfect solution to my sleep issues, sending me straight to sleep at first cuddle, and I knew they could help others to feel calmer.

Is a Weighted Stuffed Animal Right for Me?

I believed in this adorable weighted stuffed animal and its mission, and I knew people—both kids and adults like me—could benefit from Hugimals’ calming, comforting hugs more than ever. Thinking I could never launch the product with a full-time job, I licensed the idea for Hugimals to a mid-size company. But when the company was bought by another business, as scary as it was, I decided to leave my job, take Hugimals back and start up my own company, Hugimals World (hugimalsworld.com and @Hugimals on Instagram).

When it was finally time to launch Hugimals at ASTRA, a big toy trade show in Long Beach, people gravitated toward my booth, and started hugging the Hugimals and their reactions were priceless! They said it “feels like you’re cuddling a baby or a pet,” and people didn’t want to put them down. I started getting tons of orders on Hugimalsworld.com, on Amazon, toy and gift stores, and hospital gift shops around the country, which was amazing. But what I loved most was that the other exhibitors were telling each other about Hugimals, and they came running over to buy Hugimals for themselves, clearing out all my show inventory.

Hugimals are getting such positive reactions across the board, from kids and parents, college students needing anxiety-relieving hugs, adults who love relaxing with a Hugimal after a stressful day at work, therapists and educators who use Hugimals in their practices and classrooms, and even senior adults finding comfort and joy in their embrace.

But for me, what’s most important is that the more exposure Hugimals get, the more I can work with the hospitals and non-profits to get them into the arms of those who could use their healing hugs most.

Hugimals
Four of the weighted stuffed animals available at hugimalsworld.com

Today, I am thrilled at all the possibilities for Hugimals. We’ve just launched our first new Hugimals family member, Frankie the Cat, who is joining Darby the Bear, Sam the Sloth, Emory the Elephant, and Charlie the puppy. We’re seeing so much interest from larger retailers, and we have plans for additional calming products.

But my very own Hugimal is still indispensable to me—and has relieved Mike of his “arm” duties. My anxiety at night is a thing of the past. I get sound sleep, my racing thoughts are gone, and I use my Hugimal to help calm my anxiety when traveling or just lounging around the house. I am so proud to have created a screen-free solution that’s helping so many ease stress during challenging times or anytime they just need a hug!

A Sleep Doctor Weighs in on More Benefits of Weighted Stuffed Animals

“A weighted stuffed animal—or mask or blanket—exerts a gentle, firm pressure that not only tames the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, it’s affect on the activity in the parasympathetic nervous system to lower heart rate and blood pressure and decrease anxiety,” says sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D. The result? Better, deeper sleep!

But that’s not all…scientists are looking into more benefits of weighted items—in fact, one study published in The Journal of Pain found that subjects with chronic pain were able to lower their perception of pain by using weighted blankets. And more new research is examining their ability to help ease mental health conditions and dementia.

For optimal benefits, experts suggest a weighted blanket, pad or plush that is no more than 10% of your body weight.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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