I remember receiving a woven orange pouch, the size of a matchbook, tied with a string. When I carefully untied the string and emptied the content of the pouch onto the table, I discovered a huge family of tiny, colorfully dressed people. These were tiny dolls, less than half an inch tall, made of tiny twigs that were tied together, and then decorated with yarn for hair, scraps of fabric for clothing, eyes and mouths drawn on their faces.

guatemalan worry dolls

“What are they?” I asked the person who gifted them to me.

“They are worry dolls,” followed the answer.

“Worry dolls,” I repeated, mesmerized by the intricate details of almost a dozen little people that all fit on the palm of my hand.

I learned that worry dolls are traditionally made in Guatemala, where they were created by indigenous people many centuries ago as a remedy for worrying. To alleviate anxiety, before going to bed, you must tell each doll a worry that you have, after which you place the dolls under your pillow, and while you are sleeping, the dolls will take away your worries. To reinforce a child’s belief that worry dolls do their work diligently, parents sometimes remove worry dolls from under the child’s pillow. The psychological effect of worry dolls can be explained by the fact that, according to psychologists, saying what we fear or worry about out loud makes these fears lose their power, hence, less anxiety and better sleep.

I renamed my dolls into “don’t worry dolls”.