According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), about 2.7 million adults in the U.S. suffer from panic disorder. Panic attacks can come out of nowhere and can be a major disruption for people who experience them. Additionally, many people who have panic disorder also suffer from a co-occurring disorder, such as anxiety and depression.
If you suffer from panic disorder, weighted blankets for adults with anxiety might seem like yet another silly solution offered up by well-meaning but mildly annoying relatives — yet, there is evidence that a weighted blanket can help you feel less anxious.
What Is Panic Disorder?
If you suffer from panic attacks, you already know how terrifying and disruptive they can be. In some cases, panic attacks are brought on by a triggering event, such as past trauma or anxiety. For some sufferers, panic attacks seem to strike as they’re just coming out of sleep. In other situations, however, they seem to appear for no identifiable reason. Because panic attacks can strike at just about any time, they can be difficult to manage.
People can experience panic attacks in different ways, but common symptoms include feelings of intense nervousness, a racing heart and a feeling of impending doom.
The good news is that panic disorder — and the panic attacks that come with it — is highly treatable. As the ADAA states, “Many people don’t know that their disorder is real and highly responsive to treatment. Some are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors and loved ones, about what they experience for fear of being considered a hypochondriac. Instead, they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family, and others who could be helpful or supportive.”
If you experience panic attacks, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Additionally, there are many drug-free and non-pharmaceutical options that may help you manage your panic disorder more effectively.
Weighted Blankets For Adults With Anxiety: 5 Tips for Managing Panic Disorder
Living with a panic disorder doesn’t have to mean being helpless or forever burdened by panic attacks that can strike at any time. There are plenty of strategies and techniques that can help you relax and banish anxiety — including using weighted blankets to help you soothe yourself. Here are five tips for taking control of your panic disorder.
Panic Attack ≠ Dying
When you’re in the throes of a panic attack, it can feel like your health is in danger. In fact, some people who experience panic attacks describe it as a feeling of “being near death.” Their heart races and they can’t catch their breath. Some people may experience stomach pains, hot flashes, and other frightening symptoms. It’s quite normal for sufferers to worry that they’re experiencing a heart attack.
However, it’s important to remember that a panic attack can’t kill you. Dr. Patricia Thornton, a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders, points out that anxiety and panic attacks can’t cause death. Because they trigger the sympathetic nervous system to react as if the body is in danger, however, they can definitely make people feel like something horrible is about to happen. This nervous system response is where the “doom and gloom” feeling comes from.
If you are aware of your body’s response, and you remember that your panic attack is actually just a “false alarm,” it’s much easier to focus on regaining control. You can work on taking slow, deep breaths and gradually regaining calm.
It may sound like a cliché, but exercise truly is important for maintaining the healthiest version of yourself. If you have suffered from anxiety or panic disorder for a while, you may have already heard that regular exercise is key to keeping anxiety at bay. As you might expect, science backs it up.
Research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry reveals that not only does regular exercise reduce mortality rates by 30 percent, but it also helps improve memory and cognitive ability in people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Routine exercise is also a major factor in reducing rates of heart disease, depression, and panic disorder.
As the authors state, “There is strong evidence from animal studies that exercise and regular activity positively impacts the pathophysiological processes of anxiety. Numerous studies and meta-analyses show that exercise is also associated with reduced anxiety in clinical settings.”
Get Enough Sleep
Insomnia and inadequate sleep have been identified as a factor in everything from heart attacks and car accidents to workplace injuries and anxiety.
If you’re already a worrier, skipping out on much-needed Zs can make your anxiety worse. According to Dr. Rick Nauert at PsychCentral, “Neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation fires up areas of the brain associated with emotional processing. The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders. Researchers also believe that chronic worriers — those who are naturally more anxious and therefore more likely to develop a full-blown anxiety disorder — are acutely vulnerable to the impact of insufficient sleep.”
So how much sleep should you be racking up at night? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says it depends on your age. The NSF recommends between seven and nine hours for adults between the ages of 18 and 64. Adults age 65 and above should get between seven and eight hours.
Know Thyself (aka Triggers)
While doctors don’t really know what causes panic disorder, research shows that genetics can play a role. Additionally, some people may just be wired to respond to emotional disturbances in a more profound way.
If you’ve had panic attacks or anxiety for years, you might already have an idea what types of situations or experiences seem to bring them on.
On the other hand, if your panic attacks seem to pop up out of the blue, keeping a journal or logging your experiences in an app could help you identify potential triggers. If you know what causes you to experience anxiety, you can avoid situations that make a panic attack more likely.
Common anxiety triggers include stress (like a job loss or a relationship break-up), fatigue and even everyday stressors like long lines at the grocery store. Once you know the kinds of triggers that bother you the most, you can make an effort to stay away from situations that are likely to steer you into a panic attack.
Use a Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets work by applying continuous, firm and gentle pressure to the body. Made with about 10 percent of the user’s body weight, they’re like a full-body hug. If you’ve ever snuggled under a heavy sleeping bag or luxuriated under your down comforter on a cold night, you may have already experienced the positive effects of a weighted blanket.
Unlike regular blankets, however, weighted blankets are made with a type of therapy in mind. Known as deep touch pressure therapy or deep touch pressure stimulation, firm but gentle touching and massage have been shown to reduce anxiety in both children and adults. You can experience deep touch pressure therapy through massage or products like a weighted blanket, wrap or vest.
For years, parents of children with autism and sensory processing disorder have relied on weighted blankets to help their little ones rest easier and avoid meltdowns. As time has gone by, however, more and more people have discovered that weighted blankets aren’t just a therapy tool for autism, ADHD and related conditions.
Scientific studies have shown that weighted blankets have a real impact on anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders found that weighted pressure on the body helped study participants feel less anxious and more refreshed upon waking.
As researchers noted: “The application of deep pressure, through for example weighted vests and blankets, has been reported to produce a calming and relaxing effect in clinical conditions such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and pervasive developmental disorders. Applying deep pressure has been shown to be beneficial for children with high levels of anxiety or arousal and deep pressure touch may also alleviate anxiety (e.g. in dental environments and bipolar disorder).”
In a separate study, researchers found that people who used a weighted blanket for sleep felt less anxious and had lower blood pressure rates. Among the study subjects, 63 percent said they felt less anxious, and 78 percent preferred the weighted blanket as a “calming modality.” This is good news for people who experience panic attacks immediately upon waking.
Whether you use a weighted blanket for sleep, while you’re working or during relaxing evenings on the sofa after work, it’s worth exploring deep pressure touch therapy to see if it works for you.