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Clothing to Calm

How can Clothing Help Combat Soaring Anxiety Rates?


A weighted blanket folded up on a white background

Like the weighted blanket - once a therapeutic intervention for clinical conditions, now a Gen Z and millennial must-have - the calming benefits of compression and weighted clothing could benefit everybody, but particularly those affected by anxiety. Research suggests that these clothing items can provide deep touch pressure, similar to a hug or a massage, which may help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and stimulate the production of feel-good neurotransmitters, leading to reduced anxiety, improved focus and a calming effect. With rates of anxiety diagnoses soaring particularly among 16-29 year olds, could clothing reduce the need for pharmacological interventions?


Weighted blankets were developed as a therapeutic intervention to relieve anxiety and reduce stress. Originally intended for use among individuals with Autism Spectrum Condition, Sensory Processing Disorder and clinical conditions such as anxiety and depression, they have subsequently become a mass-market product. So much so, that the global weighted blanket market was valued at $399 million in 2019 and estimated to reach $2254 million by 2031, with the biggest growth area in adult purchases (1).


Research suggests compression and weighted clothing benefit individuals with :


a spectrum of different coloured stones on wooden beach groyne

Anxiety: Research shows that individuals with an anxiety diagnosis have an over-reactivity to sensory stimuli, including tactile stimulation (2). In 2022/23 37.1% of women and 29.9% of men reported high levels of anxiety, with the largest group (28%) aged 16 -29 years (3) .

Sensory Processing Disorder: Individuals with SPD are more sensitive to sensory input, including the way clothing feels on their skin. Between 5-16% of the general population are estimated to have symptoms associated with SPD (4).

Autism Spectrum Condition: People with ASC have unique sensory processing patterns and experience sensory challenges, with sensitivity to touch being the most common (5). The highest rise in diagnosis rates is currently among adults (6).

ADHD: Sensory processing challenges are more common in individuals with ADHD than in neurotypical adults and children (7). The latest study of 21 million adults concludes that 3.1% of the adult population lives with ADHD (8).



How Compression and Weighted Clothing can Help

Deep touch pressure is defined as ‘the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting or animals, or swaddling’ (14). This physical touch is considered to change physiological arousal (9) through C-tactile afferents - the receptors abundant in hairy skin - responding vigorously to dynamic moving touch (10). The Affective Touch Hypothesis (11, 12, 13) suggests that these receptors have distinct neural pathways from other kinds of touch. Weighted and compression garments are thought to mimic deep touch pressure acting similarly to a hug or a massage (15). The wearer's rhythmic breathing provides an oscillating pressure stimulus similar to that of deep pressure touch but research shows the benefits remain when the confound of interpersonal touch is removed (16).


In non-clinical conditions, as well as in individuals with anxiety and SPD, research suggests compression and weighted clothing can:

A hazy sun appearing on a rocky beach
Image Credit: Marc Rogoff


Reset help the autonomic nervous system

The pressure of weighted and compression garments is considered to activate the parasympathetic (rest, digest) part of the nervous system, lowering the sympathetic response (flight or fight) to return the body to homeostasis, a state of balance (17).


Release feel-good neurotransmitters

The deep pressure proprioception provided through weighted and compression clothing is suggested to stimulate the production of the feel-good neurotransmitters; endorphins (18), oxytocin (19), serotonin and dopamine (20, 21).




For Neurodiverse Individuals:


In ASC:  Weighted and compression clothing applies deep-pressure proprioceptive (body in space) input. This proprioceptive input feels calming and grounding to the wearer and can improve focus, and attention and reduce feelings of anxiety (22).

In ADHD: Data shows that weighted vests are moderately successful at helping participants in the studies stay on task with an improvement in fidgeting (23).


Compression clothing is also widely used in activewear, boosting circulation increasing core temperature, and keeping muscles warm. This enhanced circulation is suggested to increase muscle support and stability, reducing fatigue, muscle pain, and soreness, allowing athletes to train more effectively. The wearing of weighted vests is also considered to boost fat burning and increase stamina. So far, despite the obvious benefits and unlike the weighted blanket, these garments haven't entered the mainstream, remaining a specialist intervention item or used solely in the gym. Weighted and compression garments don’t have to look any different from standard lounge and casualwear. Like the weighted blanket, the market opportunity for a non-stigmatised collection is huge, so the question must be asked, when will the fashion industry take note?


To explore the casualwear collection developed to harness the benefits of compression wear and weighted garments, please click here or contact us for more details.


References

2. Cummings, K. K., Jung, J., Zbozinek, T. D., Wilhelm, F. H., Dapretto, M., Craske, M. G., Bookheimer, S. Y., & Green, S. A. (2023). Shared and distinct biological mechanisms for anxiety and sensory over‐responsivity in youth with autism versus anxiety disorders. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 102(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/jnr.25250

3. ONS. (2021). Depression or anxiety in adults, Great Britain: 22 September to 3 October 2021. Retrieved from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/mentalhealth/adhocs/13844depressionoranxietyinadultsgreatbritain22septemberto3october2021 [Accessed 11/04/2023]

4. Miller LJ, Schoen SA, Mulligan S, Sullivan J. Identification of Sensory Processing and Integration Symptom Clusters: A Preliminary Study. Occup Ther Int. 2017 Nov 16;2017:2876080. doi: 10.1155/2017/2876080. PMID: 29348739; PMCID: PMC5733937.

5. Kern, J. K., Trivedi, M. H., Garver, C. R., Grannemann, B. D., Andrews, A., Savla, J. S., Johnson, D. G., Mehta, J., & Schroeder, J. (2006). The pattern of sensory processing abnormalities in autism. Autism, 10(5), 480–494. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361306066564

6. Russell, G., Stapley, S., Newlove‐Delgado, T., Salmon, A., White, R., Warren, F., Pearson, A., & Ford, T. (2021). Time trends in autism diagnosis over 20 years: a UK population‐based cohort study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 63(6), 674–682. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13505

7. Panagiotidi, M., Overton, P. G., & Stafford, T. (2018). The relationship between ADHD traits and sensory sensitivity in the general population. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 80, 179–185. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2017.10.008

8. Ayano, G., Demelash, S., Gizachew, Y., Tsegay, L., & Alat, R. (2023). The global prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: An umbrella review of meta-analyses. Journal of Affective Disorders, 339, 860–866. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2023.07.071

9. Reynolds S, Lane SJ, Mullen B. Effects of deep pressure stimulation on physiological arousal. Am J Occup Ther. 2015 May-Jun;69(3):6903350010p1-5. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2015.015560. PMID: 25871605.

10. Ackerley, R. (2022). C-tactile (CT) afferents: evidence of their function from microneurography studies in humans. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 43, 95–100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2021.08.012

11. Löken, L. S. (2009). A pathway for pleasant touch: linking peripheral receptors to central processing and hedonic experience. Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology. Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation.

12. Morrison, I., Löken, L. S., Minde, J., Wessberg, J., Perini, I., Nennesmo, I., & Olausson, H. (2011). Reduced C-afferent fibre density affects perceived pleasantness and empathy for touch. Brain, 134(4), 1116-1126.

13. Ackerley, R., Saar, K., McGlone, F., & Backlund Wasling, H. (2014). Quantifying the sensory and emotional perception of touch: differences between glabrous and hairy skin. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 8, 34.

14. Grandin, T. (1992). Calming effects of deep touch pressure in patients with autistic disorder, college students, and animals. Journal of child and adolescent psychopharmacology, 2(1), 63-72.

15. Chen, H., & Yang, H. (2013). Physiological Effects of Deep Touch Pressure on Anxiety Alleviation: The Weighted Blanket Approach. Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering, 33(5), 463. https://doi.org/10.5405/jmbe.1043

16. Case, L. K., Liljencrantz, J., McCall, M. V., Bradson, M. L., Necaise, A., Tubbs, J. D., Olausson, H., Wang, B., & Bushnell, M. C. (2021). Pleasant deep pressure: expanding the social touch hypothesis. Neuroscience, 464, 3–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2020.07.050

17. Cavezzi, A., Colucci, R., Barsotti, N. & Di lonna, G. (2022). Compression therapy, autonomic nervous system, and heart rate variability: A narrative review and our preliminary personal experience. Phlebology, 37(10), 739–753. https://doi.org/10.1177/02683555221135321

18. Nummenmaa, L., Tuominen, L., Dunbar, R., Hirvonen, J., Manninen, S., Arponen, E., Machin, A., Hari, R., Jääskeläinen, I. P., & Sams, M. (2016). Social touch modulates endogenous μ-opioid system activity in humans. NeuroImage, 138, 242–247. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.05.063

19. Light, K. C., Grewen, K. M., & Amico, J. A. (2005). More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology, 69(1), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.11.00

20. Taylor, C. J., Spriggs, A. D., Ault, M. J., Flanagan, S., & Sartini, E. C. (2017). A systematic review of weighted vests with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 37, 49–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2017.03.003

21. Morrison, E. E. (2007). A review of research on the use of weighted vests with children on the autism spectrum . Education, 127.3, 323-328.

22. Guinchat, V., Vlamynck, E., Diaz, L., Chambon, C., Pouzenc, J., Cravero, C., Baeza-Velasco, C., Hamonet, C., Xavier, J., & Cohen, D. (2020). Compressive Garments in Individuals with Autism and Severe Proprioceptive Dysfunction: A Retrospective Exploratory Case Series. Children, 7(7), 77. https://doi.org/10.3390/children7070077

23. Denny, E.; Folkes, W.; Ghattas, I.; Kaufmann, H.; Williams, H.; and Potvin, Marie-Christine, "A Systematic Review of the Efficacy of Weighted Vests and Blankets on People with ASD or ADHD" (2018). Student Papers, Posters & Projects. Paper 20. https://jdc.jefferson.edu/student_papers/20


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