A staggering 40 million Americans report that they struggle with feelings of anxiety on a regular basis. Factors such as relationships, finances, work, safety, and the political climate contribute to feelings of anxiety among Americans. These statistics have some professionals referring to this wave as an anxiety epidemic that transcends gender and socioeconomic barriers with a profound effect on a Americans’ overall health.
Many Americans are looking for effective, natural ways to reduce stress and, thereby, improve their overall sense of well-being. The popularity of weighted blankets has soared over the past year with reports that they can help reduce the symptoms and effects of stress and anxiety by using the science of Deep Touch Pressure (DTP).
Deep Touch Pressure can be an effective way to naturally stabilize the nervous system. Since stress and anxiety are rooted in instability, DTP can be implemented through the use of weighted blankets, weighted vests, and compression clothing.
Before examining the different products available for DTP therapy, let’s take a look at what may cause anxiety levels to rise in the body and how DTP can help.
Cortisol is sometimes called “the stress hormone” which is secreted by the adrenal glands. While it performs many functions in the body, it also kicks production into high gear during stressful situations.
Experiencing prolonged stress can keep cortisol levels higher than they should be, which can damage tissue and cause weight gain, mood swings, and insomnia.
A healthy diet, exercise, and sleep are some of the natural ways to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol levels naturally lower themselves during sound sleep cycles. However, because stress can cause insomnia (and because sleep is needed to reduce cortisol and stress) many people find themselves struck in a vicious cycle of anxiety and insomnia.
This is where DTP comes in. Deep Touch Pressure can quiet the nervous system by lowering cortisol, relaxing muscles, and increasing circulation. All of these advantages promote a sense of calm and help individuals fall asleep.
Weighted blankets and vests can be a great way to naturally implement the tactile sensory technique of DTP to treat anxiety. In the same way that a hug can comfort a scared child and swaddling can soothe a crying baby, weighted blankets, bests, compression clothing can also help adults naturally manage their stress and anxiety.
Not only can weighted blankets reduce cortisol production, they can also promote the production of serotonin. Dubbed “the happy hormone”, serotonin transmits messages between nerves and brings feelings of general well-being and happiness.
Serotonin also makes melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating the sleep/wake cycle.
Sometimes these specially designed weighted blankets go by different names. They can be called calming blankets or stress blankets because, well, they help calm us down when we are stressed. These calming blankets use Deep Touch Pressure to calm overloaded nervous systems.
Throughout the day, we experience normal anxiety levels that help us complete normal, everyday tasks. For those who are prone to anxiety and depression, the central nervous system is more easily overwhelmed.
The nervous system is comprised of two main parts. One part, the Sympathetic Nervous System, tells our brain when to adequately respond to stressful situations. This is the part of the nervous system responsible for the “fight or flight” adrenaline rushes that help us rise to the occasion when necessary. The second part of the nervous system, the Parasympathetic
Nervous System, is what kicks in after a stressful event is over and tells the body to start calming down again.
After prolonged periods of stress, however, the SNS can get used working overtime and get stuck on high alert, not allowing the PNS to play its role in relaxation. That is what causes anxiety. The nervous system has been overwhelmed by stress and forgets how to calm down, causing anxiety.
Anxiety can have several negative effects on the body, such as weight gain, mood swings, irritability, depression, and insomnia. It is difficult to effectively treat anxiety without adequate sleep. Even with medication and therapy, sleep is an important factor in the treatment of anxiety.
However, when someone suffers from anxiety, it is can be very difficult to fall asleep with high levels of cortisol and a lacking Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Weighted blankets can provide the tactile sensory input necessary to soothe the nervous system and make it easier to fall asleep.
Weighted blankets usually consist of several square pockets filled with weights such as beads, poly-pellets, or even rice. These square, weighted pockets are stitched together like a quilt, evenly distributing their weight over the body. The pressure from the blankets makes contact with deep touch pressure points and stimulates them to calm the body and produce serotonin.
Weighted blankets can weigh as little as five pounds, or as much as 50 pounds. They also can be purchased (or made) in any dimensions. Keep in mind that weighted blankets do not typically come in standard bed sizes such as twin, queen, or king. Instead, they are designed to fit a person. Weighted blanket dimensions are usually listed in inches and some manufacturers even list suggested dimensions that coincide with an individual’s height and weight.
Weighted blankets come in a variety of fabrics, such as cotton, polyester, velvet, or fleece. The color and fabric of a blanket are chosen purely by the preference of the consumer. Comfort is of utmost importance in choosing the right weighted blanket. Select a fabric that feels good and will not get too hot during the night. Breathable cotton blends are good choices for those who get overheated at night. Fleece material may be a good choice for those who get cold at night.
Weighted vests use the same Deep Touch Pressure science as weighted blankets. DTP applied to the upper body can help reduce signs of stress or anxiety.
These vests are often prescribed by occupational therapists as a calming technique for children with autism or extreme anxiety, but can have positive results for adults whose sensory responses can cause anxiety, as well. Weighted vests are usually only worn for short periods throughout the day, such as during stressful activities.
It is not a good idea to wear a weighted vest constantly, as it can put too much strain on the skeletal system. If needed, work with an occupational therapist to make a schedule for vest-wearing so that it can benefit when needed without putting too much strain on the body.
Clothing that contains spandex, such as leggings and long-sleeve athletic tops can create a swaddle effect/ Having breathable clothing that fits snugly over the body can use Deep Touch Pressure to soothe anxiety naturally in the same way a weighted vest or weighted blanket does.
Sometimes, anxiety requires medical intervention. If stress or anxiety has triggered feelings of depression that persist or continue to get worse, always seek help from a medical professional. Clinical depression requires a medical diagnosis.
Weighted blankets and other DTP techniques can be used in conjunction with professional treatment, but not as a substitute for medical help when dealing with clinical depression.
Like sleep, a balanced diet can also help manage anxiety symptoms naturally. Foods rich in magnesium (leafy green vegetables), zinc, and probiotics have been shown to lower anxiety in adults.
Healthy eating combined with good sleep habits can have drastic results in combating anxiety.
Some health insurance plans will pay for weighted blankets because of their many health benefits. Consider making a call to the insurance company to see if a specific insurance plan covers the cost of weighted blankets.
Filing it with an insurance company could save some out-of-pocket expense, especially if it is prescribed by a doctor for issues like circulation or anxiety.
There are multiple benefits that a weighted stress or calming blanket can provide, both physically and emotionally. Lowering blood pressure and heart rate, increasing circulation, and improving sleep patterns can all help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
While some severe cases of anxiety require medical intervention, natural methods can also help manage stress and anxiety. Weighted blankets and Deep Touch Pressure are great ways to treat anxiety naturally. Consider the benefits of DTP and curl up under a weighted blanket for an anxiety-free night.