16 April 2011

Jury is still out on Mayan calendar predictions but what about Mayan worry dolls?

WORRY dolls are an arguably ingenious idea. Created by the Ancient Mayans and replicated by multiple Central American cultures, the idea is that you tell the worry doll your problems, place it under your pillow and the doll will take your problems away or deal with them for you while you sleep.

Guatemalans, Peruvians and Mexicans (to name a few) might be onto something with these inexpensive, simple creations. A study into “emotional closure” by Xiuping Li and her colleagues at Singapore's National University found that metaphorically dealing with issues like regret and distress can actually alleviate the issue at hand.

In their research they asked respondents to write down a regret they needed “emotional closure” from and place the note in an envelope. Half the group then sealed their envelope, the other half didn’t. Those who sealed their envelope afterwards reported they felt far less negative about the regret. Li and associates conclusion: expressing an issue, then sealing it puts the troubles metaphorically “out of reach” and enables a higher level of emotional healing than simply expressing the issue.

What does this mean for the worry doll? Worry dolls are commonly given with a box or bag that they are to be put into before being placed under one’s pillow. If we believe even a speck of Li’s study, then by telling the worry doll your issue and then sealing it up, you are likely to achieve some emotional healing, albeit sub-consciously.

Cultures who believe in worry dolls give children a worry doll at a young age, to help them through life from their earliest awareness’s. Today worry dolls are often used in child therapy, specifically hospitals.

The Child Life Therapists at Westmead Children's Hospital in New South Wales use worry dolls as a form of expressive art therapy to help children deal with the stresses of their ailments and hospital life.

UC Davis Medical Centre, in Sacramento California, run a Healing and Performing Arts program for children with cancer. Art (including worry dolls) is used to help the children express their feelings and emotions about their cancer journey.
Grade 7 Languages students at Thurmont Middle School in Maryland America learnt about determination, having a purpose and helping someone in need by making worry dolls and donating them to children at local hospitals. The students learnt about worry dolls in Guatemalan culture as a way to address the issue of health, specifically the fears of children while in hospital. The outcome was to help comfort the hospitalised children and increase their chances of improved health.

Western psychologists often use worry dolls (or “worry warriors” in psycho-babble) as a creative way to teach coping skills for grief, anxiety and stress in children.

There is also a multitude of worry dolls designed specifically for adults. A quick check on EBay and you will worry dolls for work, marriage, love, travel, you name it!

So if you know someone who is not dealing with life’s obstacles very well, and missing sleep because of it; forget flowers, chocolates and alcohol and get them a worry doll. Actually, make a hamper containing flowers, chocolates, alcohol and a worry doll: you can never be too prepared.

Do you believe in worry dolls?

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