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How Deep Pressure Stimulation Helped My Anxiety

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While living with post-concussion syndrome (PCS), I dealt with acute levels of physical and mental stress. After being in a bad car accident, my chronic pain and memory loss gave me anxiety, and I had a lot of trouble sleeping. My cortisol levels were off the charts.

While looking for ways to better manage my symptoms and make my life more functional, I came across deep pressure stimulation (DPS).

DPS is the concept of applying pressure or firm touch to someone who is experiencing stress or anxiety as a way of alleviating their symptoms. It’s similar to the way a baby feels soothed after they are swaddled — being held firmly by the blanket tends to lower their anxiety. This idea can translate to your own life as an adult! When you are held firmly, like during a hug, your nervous system has a chance to relax. Your fight-or-flight response lowers and you may feel less anxious.

For me, one of the challenging parts of PCS was being hypersensitive to noise, light and big groups of people, symptoms that are common to a variety of chronic illnesses. I became overstimulated very easily; interacting with anyone other than my family and best friend left me exhausted and unable to cognitively process conversations and my environment. Luckily, the sensory overload and restlessness I was experiencing from PCS may also be minimized through DPS.

I invested in a weighted blanket, a popular form of DPS therapy. I was amazed at how much it helped alleviate my insomnia. Sleeping under 15 pounds of blanket calmed my heart rate when I got in bed and I started falling asleep faster and staying asleep. When I feel overwhelmed during the day, I wrap myself up in it and find the heaviness of the blanket to be very soothing.

I also learned that therapy dogs can be a form of DPS. My dog had always been soothing to me by leaning against me or lying across my lap when I was stressed, so once I learned that there is science behind that form of contact, I got her certified as a support animal. I started bringing her to therapy with me and found that I could stay more present and calm while processing emotionally difficult things because of the firm pressure of her lying across my lap.

Other forms of DPS include compression clothing, massages, neck wraps, weighted vests and long hugs from a loved one. DPS can help both children and adults, and might make a difference in the symptoms of autism, ADHD, depression and sensory processing disorders. If you are living or struggling with any of those conditions, have generalized anxiety or are dealing with a big loss or life change, looking into a form of DPS that fits your lifestyle and health situation could be an effective resource in caring for your mental health. It has helped me manage my symptoms, cope with stress in a healthy way and gain a higher quality of life.

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Getty image via Katya_Havok

Originally published: May 2, 2018
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