Calming Cat – TTS – Review – Polyvagal Theory

by | Jan 1, 2023

TTS recently released their Calming Cat (although it will forever be Cuddle Cat to me).

Even though I appreciate a good stuffed animal, what really sets Calming Cat apart is the theoretical and psychological considerations that went into its development.  Not only is there a weighted cuddly toy but there is a set of advice cards designed to support its use.  From cards explaining how the pack works to those which offer activities and guidance for its use.

Why a cuddly toy?

Cuddly toys, also known as stuffed animals or plushies, can be comforting and soothing for children, especially when they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed. They can provide a sense of security and familiarity and can be used as a tool for self-regulation.

For children who are dysregulated, cuddly toys can be especially helpful in helping them manage their emotions and behaviours. These toys can provide a sense of comfort and support, which can help children feel more in control of their emotions and behaviours. Cuddly toys can also be a helpful distraction during times of stress or anxiety, providing a way for children to focus their attention on something other than their negative emotions.

In addition to the emotional benefits, cuddly toys can also have physical benefits for children. For example, hugging a cuddly toy can help to release oxytocin, a hormone that is associated with feelings of love, bonding, and relaxation. This can help children feel calmer and more relaxed, which can in turn, improve their overall well-being.

A cuddly toy can potentially help regulate the Autonomic Nervous System by activating the “social engagement” mode. When an individual holds or cuddles a cuddly toy, it can stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is associated with feelings of calm and connection. This can help to slow down the heart rate and regulate the ANS, promoting a sense of relaxation and well-being.

In addition, cuddly toys can provide a sense of comfort and familiarity, which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. By providing a source of comfort and support, cuddly toys can help individuals feel more secure.

The cards in the pack explain in more detail about how we are essentially a ‘bag of chemicals’ and Paula Williams the EP who designed the set is clear to point out we shouldn’t be afraid to use the correct language with children.  The cards are simple to understand and provide the Calming Cat Coach with the language, theory and practice they need in order for Calming Cat to extend beyond its initial appearance as a cuddly toy.

Polyvagal theory has been used to underpin the development of the activities. 

According to polyvagal theory, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a key role in regulating emotions and behaviours. Dysregulation, or difficulty managing and controlling emotions, behaviours, and physiological states, can be related to dysfunctions or imbalances in the ANS.

Polyvagal theory proposes that there are three different modes of operation of the ANS: the “survival” mode, the “social engagement” mode, and the “immobilisation” mode. When the ANS is functioning optimally, it can shift between these different modes in response to different situations and needs. However, suppose there is a dysfunction or imbalance in the ANS. In that case, it may be more difficult for an individual to shift between these modes, leading to difficulty regulating emotions and behaviours.

For example, if an individual is stuck in the “survival” mode, they may be more reactive to stress and more prone to outbursts of anger or frustration. If they are stuck in the “immobilization” mode, they may have difficulty engaging with others and may be more prone to withdrawal or dissociation.

Polyvagal theory provides a framework for understanding how dysregulation can be related to ANS functioning and can inform interventions and treatments for individuals with dysregulation.

PORGES, S.W. (1995) ‘Orienting in a defensive world: Mammalian modifications of our evolutionary heritage. A Polyvagal Theory’, Psychophysiology. Received March 6, 1995; Accepted March 23, 1995, 32(4), pp. 301–318. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.1995.tb01213.x.

Each activity within the pack is built on the movement from a state of dysregulation to one of stability and regulation.

For example, focussing on just one of the key features of the pack, let’s look at controlled breathing.

What is controlled breathing?

Controlled breathing is a relaxation technique that involves focusing on and intentionally controlling the breath in order to achieve a state of calm and relaxation. Controlled breathing involves taking slow, deep breaths and exhaling slowly, with the aim of slowing down the heart rate and calming the mind and body.

Controlled breathing is often used as a relaxation technique to reduce stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions and can be practised anywhere and at any time. It is a simple and effective way to promote relaxation and well-being.

In the pack, there are multiple cards offering different ways to approach controlled breathing: Nostril breathing, Lion’s breathing, Elbow breathing, Colour breathing, Blow football, Octopus breathing and others.

“I love Calming Cat (Cuddle Cat), and the pack of materials makes it more than just a cuddly toy in the classroom; it provides a true well-being and self-regulation resource for students and a supportive framework for intervention with integrity for the staff involved.”

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