Stress. It's something just about everyone deals with at some point. For some people, stress comes and goes. For others, it's part of a sensory processing disorder like autism or ADHD. Insomnia and sleep disturbances can also lead to stressful days and sleepless nights. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to manage stress, including using a stress blanket that helps boost oxytocin levels in the brain.
Also known as a weighted blanket, a stress blanket uses firm but gentle weight to mimic the effects of deep pressure touch stimulation — a form of therapy that encourages the release of serotonin (the “happiness chemical”) in the brain. If you've always wanted to try a weighted blanket, here is a guide to getting started.
Stress Is a Big, Big Problem
If your days are jam-packed with stress, you’re not alone. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress has become a leading mental health concern in the United States. “Chronic stress — stress that interferes with your ability to function normally over an extended period — is becoming a public health crisis.” Statistics show that 77 percent of Americans “regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.”
Not only is stress affecting more people, it’s getting more intense. The APA reports that 44 percent of Americans who say they experience stress also say their stress levels have jumped to the moderate-to-high range.
And it’s not just adults who are affected. One-third of kids in the U.S. said: “they had experienced a physical health symptom often associated with stress, such as headaches, stomach aches or trouble falling or staying asleep.”
What Stress Does to Your Body
We all know that stress isn’t good for us, but did you know it has an impact on every part of your body? From your muscles and breathing patterns to your mood and your stomach, stress can wreak havoc on the way you feel.
Musculoskeletal Health - Stress and anxiety are common sources of muscle pain, especially in the neck and shoulders. If you suffer from frequent tension headaches or back pain, stress could be the culprit. Stress can also exacerbate existing musculoskeletal disorders and injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
Respiratory Health - When you’re stressed, you tend to breathe heavier. If you suffer from respiratory disease like asthma, stress can lead to potentially serious health complications.
Cardiovascular Health - You’ve probably experienced a pounding heart when you’re under a lot of stress. While an occasional chest-pounding moment of anxiousness is unlikely to hurt you long-term, constant stress can put undue strain on your heart. Chronic stress taxes the entire cardiovascular system, which can increase your risk of stroke or heart attack.
Endocrine Health - Stress also affects your endocrine system. When you experience a stressful situation, it triggers a “fight or flight” response in the brain, which leads to a release of cortisol — the stress hormone. Excessive cortisol has been linked to a host of health problems, including an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity and cancer.
Gastrointestinal Health - Just about everyone has been a victim of “stress eating.” Whether your go-to comfort food is ice cream or a bag of salty potato chips, stress can do a number of your stomach — and your waistline. Stress can also lead to indigestion, heartburn and even more serious conditions like gastrointestinal infection and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Mental Health - When most people think of stress and its effects, they think of how it impacts their mental health. According to Mental Health America, “Stress is hard to define because it means different things to different people; however, it’s clear that most stress is a negative feeling rather than a positive feeling.” Stress can stop you from enjoying activities and hobbies you ordinarily love — or even having the time to do them in the first place. And when stress becomes overwhelming, it can lead to depression. When you’re swamped with work obligations, too many bills or an overload of daily chores, a constant feeling of living in a pressure cooker can take a toll on your mental well-being.
Reproductive Health - Stress can negatively impact reproductive health in both men and women. Cortisol (the stress hormone) is derived from progesterone, which is the main driver of testosterone in men and estrogen in women. When your body makes too much cortisol, it can lead to fluctuating levels of testosterone and estrogen, which can, in turn, lead to adrenal fatigue.
- Healthy Sleep - Do you lie awake at night even though you’re bone tired? Stress is a leading cause of insomnia — the frustrating sleep disorder that prevents you from getting the deeper REM cycles you need to feel rested during the day. Inadequate sleep can also lead to higher cortisol production, which can create a vicious cycle of stress and insomnia.
It’s easy to see how stress can take a big toll on your everyday life. Depending on the source of your stress, you may not be able to eliminate the reason why you feel stressed out. For example, if your job is a major cause of anxiety, financial and family obligations could leave you with a few options.
However, there are ways to reduce your stress levels, even if you can’t eliminate the reason behind your stress. While you might not be able to switch jobs or careers, you can take steps to manage the effect stress has on your physical and mental health.
How a Stress Blanket Might Help You
Stress blankets (or weighted blankets) work by creating the effect of a therapy technique called deep pressure touch stimulation. Well-known to occupational therapists and other health professionals, deep pressure touch involves applying firm but gentle pressure and squeezing throughout the body. Done properly, deep pressure touch stimulation has a soothing, calming and peaceful effect. It is especially effective in individuals with autism and other sensory processing disorders.
However, research shows that the benefits of deep pressure touch aren’t limited to autism and sensory processing disorders. Studies reveal that deep pressure touch is effective for a range of other conditions, including insomnia and anxiety.
For example, in a study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, researchers found that 63 percent of subjects felt less anxious after sleeping under a weighted blanket. The study also found that 78 percent of test subjects “preferred the weighted blanket as a calming modality.”
Another study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that “grounding” the body during sleep resulted in lower cortisol levels in study participants. Researchers noted: “Subjectively reported symptoms, including sleep dysfunction, pain, and stress, were reduced or eliminated in nearly all subjects.”
Through deep pressure touch stimulation, stress blankets promote the release of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is known as a natural mood stabilizer, and it plays an important role in helping your body heal wounds, maintain bone health, feel less anxious and avoid feeling depressed. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates all aspects of the sleep and awake cycle, including much-need deeper REM cycles.
What Weight Should You Choose for Your Stress Blanket?
When it comes to choosing a weight for your stress blanket, there are no hard and fast rules. However, a general place to start is by calculating 10 percent of your body weight. If you work with an occupational therapist, you can also ask them for their recommendation.
Most adults prefer a stress blanket that is 10 percent of their body weight, however, you may do better with slightly less weight or perhaps a little bit more. Generally, though, we find that the majority of adults do quite well at 10 percent of their body weight. If you would like to order a small blanket, we suggest 10 percent of your body weight plus one pound. For a medium-size blanket, we recommend 10 percent of your body weight plus two pounds. For large, we suggest 10 percent plus three pounds. Keep in mind that a stress blanket should be sized to fit your body and not your bed — otherwise, it will pull toward the ground at night.
You can read more about general weight guidelines on our Frequently Asked Questions page. If you’re unsure about which weight you should choose, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re happy to walk you through the ordering process and help you choose the right weight for your needs.