If you suffer from anxiety, you know just how difficult it can be to deal with constant worry - but you’re not alone. Around 14% of Australians have anxiety disorders, making it the most common mental health issue in the country, yet less than half of those dealing with it seek treatment.
Even if you haven’t been officially diagnosed with anxiety, we all feel anxious from time to time, thanks to stressful jobs, relationship woes, financial troubles, or even other health conditions. There are lots of things you can do to calm down when you feel on edge: taking some time to breathe, going for walk in the park, or treating yourself to a massage can all help put your mind at ease.
But recently, a new medication-free remedy has been getting lots of buzz: weighted blankets.
The name speaks for itself: they’re blankets-usually stuffed with polyfil or a similar material-with extra heft. Proponents say the weight helps them fall asleep and stay that way all night. That’s a big deal, since a majority of adults dealing with anxiety experience sleep problems, like insomnia.
However, they can be fairly pricey, so will it really make a difference? Or is this just another self-help gimmick picking up short-lived momentum?
Recent research from Sweden, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found that people with depression and other mental health issues slept better when using an eight-kilo weighted blanket. After four weeks, they were less likely to wake up during the night, experienced lower daytime sleepiness and they even had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Additionally, a small study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that “grounding” the human body, or pushing it downward with deep pressure touch (DPT)-similar to the experience of using a weighted blanket-reduces the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that brings about symptoms commonly associated with anxiety, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
Putting them to the test
Family therapist Donna Durham started using weighted blankets with her clients and was blown away by their reactions.
“They would be able to go from having trouble sitting still to ‘Hey, would you mind turning off the lights and letting me just sit here for a few minutes?’” she says. “I had some clients who just then started incorporating it into their self-care, to where they would have a weighted blanket in their car, or in a special bag, so if they had panic attacks, they would use them to interrupt those attacks.
“People feel calmer or they feel safer and more comforted while they’re using the blanket."