Anxiety is a type of fear more often than not associated with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future, but can also arise from something happening right now.
Presently, 40% of disability worldwide is due to depression and anxiety, and the most recent Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicates that there are some 6 million people in the UK suffering from an anxiety disorder and/or depression as their primary concern (1).
First off, it is very important to gain an understanding of what anxiety is. To help reassure anyone with anxiety, an uncommon fact is that anxiety is a normal and adaptive response to a situation because it helps us prepare for danger, also known as the “fight or flight” response kicking in. This reaction encourages our body to breathe faster, which pumps oxygen into our system. As the heart beats faster to pump blood to our muscles, we have the ability to run away or fight off the imminent danger. When we start to think of the physical symptoms related to anxiety in this way we can realize that we need anxiety to survive, therefore the intended goal when trying to “combat” anxiety is to find comfort in, understand and manage anxiety, not get rid of it altogether.
Anxiety and sleep are very much closely related. Whether you have lots of ruminating thoughts racing through your mind preventing you from falling asleep or you experience disturbed sleeping by waking up early or having nightmares then this can affect your daily function. Disturbed sleep can create a list of secondary side effects that can quickly become serious concerns if the anxiety and poor sleep goes unmanaged for long periods.
Your daily functioning, interests, hobbies and social contact can all be affected by a lack of sleep as a symptom of anxiety. Concentration then becomes more difficult, you have poor focus and increased irritability can have you lashing out or reacting negatively to the ones close to you. By managing anxiety you can start to take back control of your sleeping patterns and create opportunities to get rest, recover and develop your motivation towards previous interests, hobbies and exercise.
The comfort element to managing anxiety can most certainly be reached with the help of a weighted blanket. These blankets can be used to wrap yourself in when you feel your anxiety symptoms worsening or when a situation is becoming too much to handle. Feelings such as panic, shortness of breath, lack of focus or concentration and irritability can be enough for you to use the weighted blanket as a comfort tool. The weight of the blanket envelops your body and presses around your physique increasing the sense of security. This deep weight pressure can aid in sleep, reduce discomfort and provide comfort and relaxation when most needed.
The weight of such blanket can vary from person to person. Personal preference is key here as a weighted blanket can apply as little or as much pressure as needed, fitting the desired support and comfort.
Weight is found in the blanket through sewn up pockets and it is this additional weight that encourages the development and production of serotonin. Melatonin is the hormone that aids the body in its natural sleep cycle. In addition, Serotonin is often prescribed to people struggling with anxiety management, and helps with mood balance. The weighted blanket stimulates this hormone instinctively. As such, Melatonin levels react to this stimulation, naturally increasing the feeling of being tired, and as a result, deepens sleep.
Anxiety can impact other areas of your life, creating negative impacts. Stress, worry, concern, low mood can have a huge impact on the ability to fall asleep, to stay motivated, to enjoy life and keep up hobbies and interests. High levels of anxiety and lack of sleep can negatively impact normal daily functions.
As a result, concentration levels can be impaired, schooling or performances at work can slip and interests that were once found pleasurable can suddenly feel like a chore. The sense of deep stimulation from a weighted blanket can have a calming effect on those who choose to wrap themselves in one. Similarly to being hugged, a certain pressure or weight placed over the body can have physical and psychological advantages. Occupational therapists use techniques such as a light touch on the surface of the skin to alert the nervous system (2), contrastingly, weighted pressure from a blanket deepens this sensation providing a relaxing and calming pressure.
Weighted blankets are used within the world of psychiatric care as a very powerful tool to manage symptoms of anxiety, sensory limitations, stress, fatigue, distress, loss and perceptions of lack of control. Luckily, weighted blankets are now more widely available for use at the comfort of one’s own home.
How Does It Work?
The weight of the blanket mimics the physical and physiological feelings of being hugged. The pressure of such weight encourages your body to relax by supporting the nervous system with warming comfort. This technique is very much a safe, low cost and non-medicalized therapy to encourage better sleep patterns and promote relaxation within an individual. In a similar way to cloaking and comforting an infant, the weight and pressure of the blanket on an adult provides comfort and relief form anxiety symptoms.
The weight of the blanket is evenly distributed across pocket compartments throughout the blanket. When pressure is gently applied to the body, it encourages serotonin production, which lifts your mood. When serotonin naturally converts to melatonin, your body takes the cue to rest. When these receptors are activated, the body unwinds, feels grounded and safe.
As a result, weighted blankets are especially effective with addressing and combating symptoms of anxiety. There is further evidence to support these results as studies within Occupational Therapy in Mental Health showed that weighted blankets offered safe and applicable therapy for decreasing anxiety in patients (3). These results were further supported by a 2012 study published in Australasian Psychiatry, support the fact that weighted blankets for anxiety is a considerable alternative in helping treating or at least reducing anxiety.