According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. It affects 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
To treat anxiety, people turn to either pharmaceutical drugs, alternative remedies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or yoga and meditation.
But, anxiety blankets have also shown promise to help treat anxiety disorders.
“In psychiatric care, weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control,” says Karen Moore, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H.
According to Moore, these blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body. Deep pressure touch helps the body relax just like a firm hug. Because of this, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded, and safe.
What is an anxiety blanket?
It is a specific blanket that is designed to be heavier compared to a regular blanket. Manufacturers use different materials that make it heavier. Two of the most common ones are glass beads or plastic pellets. However, some anxiety blankets use rice, millet, or even lead.
Some weighted blankets are designed as one-piece which means the outer layer is also the weighted layer. On the other hand, the duvet style is a two-piece blanket for easier washing.
The size of the anxiety blanket will be based on the person using it. The rule of thumb for getting the right weight is 10% of your bodyweight plus a pound or two. So, if your 3-year-old weighs 40lbs, the right anxiety blanket weight is 5lbs.
But, this rule breaks down for heavier adults because it’s hard to find any weighted blanket over 25-pounds. One can choose the blanket he feels comfortable with, as some might prefer a heavier or lighter blanket than the recommended range.
The chart below will help you determine how heavy your weighted blanket should be:
The science behind the anxiety blanket
The extra weight adds warmth and gentle pressure to the blanket. It mimics the feeling of being held especially when you wrap it over top of you. This is called deep touch pressure (DTP).
“Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals, or swaddling. Occupational therapists have observed that a very light touch alerts the nervous system, but deep pressure is relaxing and calming.” — Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
DTP, the underlying science on anxiety blankets, is the technical term for the soothing feeling of gentle weight against your body. This is great for anyone who feels like they aren’t getting enough tactile attention each day.
DTP provides relief and helps you to feel calmer, healthier and more relaxed. It is because the gentle pressure acts as a calming force that reduces the activity in the sympathetic sections of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
The pressure increases your endorphin production, decreases your heart rate and releases calming neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
According to a study, children with autism tend to have low serotonin levels. Moreover, those who have depression, anxiety, aggression, ODC, PTSD, and bipolar disorder also lack this “happy’ hormone. This could be the reason why anxiety blankets work. In this way, DTP is an effective natural remedy for anxiety disorders, chronic stress, and sleep insomnia.
On the other hand, you can also get the benefits of DTP from a gentle massage, hugging, snuggling with a partner, or body pillows.
Benefits of anxiety blankets
If you still feel cynical, the following are science-backed research that might convince you:
1. Anxiety blankets reduce anxiety
A weighted blanket is a safe way to lower your stress level. A research about the effectiveness of 30-pound weighted blankets found that two-thirds of participants reported lower levels of anxiety after wrapping themselves in one. The data gathered revealed that 33% demonstrated lowering in EDA when using the weighted blanket, 63% reported lower anxiety after use, and 78% preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.
Research reveals that anxiety blankets are useful in therapeutic practice because it changes physiological arousal. High-stress events, like visiting the dentist, can be less stressful if anxiety blanket is used even for a short time only.
2. Anxiety blankets help fight insomnia
A study on insomnia patients found that those who tried sleeping with a weighted blanket experienced less restlessness. They also reported having an easier time falling asleep apart from feeling comfortable.
According to the same study, the effectiveness of a weighted blanket has been found to relate to the mass of a person. A blanket that weighs more than 10% of the person’s body is more beneficial.
The weighted chain blanket used in the present study had a positive impact on sleep. Anxiety blankets are also known to increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that is partly responsible for your body’s melatonin levels, which is the chemical that tells your body when it’s time to go to sleep.
3. Anxiety blankets reduce pre-sleep stress
When you wrap yourself with an anxiety blanket, it reduces your cortisol production. Cortisol is a stress hormone that typically triggers the “fight or flight response” in your body. If you have too much cortisol production, it adds stress to your immune system, raises your blood sugar levels, and reduces the effectiveness of your digestive system.
A study shows that “grounding” your body with an anxiety blanket can reduce cortisol production as you sleep. Thus, it makes it easier to relax and lowers your risk of waking up tired in the morning.
4. Anxiety blankets help people with ADHD
According to a study, children who have ADHD can significantly enhance their concentration and performance using DTP. An anxiety blanket also helped improve their fine motor skills like writing, especially for Autistic children.
However, the children used anxiety vests in the school setting. The findings show that sensory sensitivity was improved by the proprioceptive and deep pressure input provided by the weighted vest.
5. Anxiety blankets soothe obsessive-compulsive disorder
A study shows that one of the most effective ways to alleviate the symptoms of OCD is to improve serotonin production. Anxiety blankets are a proven way to increase serotonin levels. It means that they can calm your mind to free you from your compulsions.
Of course, anxiety blankets are not a magical cure for your problems. But the reasons above show that it’s surprisingly effective at helping people calm themselves.
And when it’s backed by science, I think it’s worth a try.