Have you ever been to therapy where your therapist taught you a grounding intervention? Or maybe it was taught to you at work during a training seminar. Grounding techniques for anxiety quite literally ground you to the real world. When we experience anxiety, our minds can spiral off into an abundance of what if’s that are not plausible. We’ve all been there. Lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, and our mind starts a tirade of “What if my alarm doesn’t go off, I am late for work and get fired?!” “What if my partner is thinking of leaving me?” “What if I don’t pass this exam and fail the course?”
In between these intruding thoughts, you may say to yourself “This won’t happen, I’m being irrational.” Yet, the thoughts keep on intruding, and you find yourself unable to break out of the hold they have you in. Things can escalate to where you experience a panic attack, but even if it doesn’t escalate to that point, it is clear that you won’t be getting any sleep unless you do something –cue grounding techniques.
Grounding techniques in general fall into two main categories, the most common that are taught involve the five senses: touch, taste, smell, hear, and sight, but there is also the category referred to as “earthing.” Earthing is a fascinating phenomenon that calls for a connection between the body and the earth which has a myriad of benefits. However, for the purpose of this article, we will stick with the initial grounding category mentioned, and those that are applicable to weighted blankets!
Grounding techniques for anxiety that involve the five senses can include any variation of tuning into these senses. I typically instruct clients to list 2-3 items that they notice for each sense. Weighted blankets are an excellent tool to use for the touch portion of your grounding practice for two reasons. One, the pressure on your skin provides relief in it of itself. And two, when there is an increase in pressure against your skin (that doesn’t hurt), you can sense the sense better which can come in handy when your mind is spiraling out of control.
This is why parents are taught to bear hug their children during tantrums, to soothe them, and ground them, thus seizing the out of control behavior.
Developing a Sense of Control
One of the worst aspects of anxiety is the sense that there’s nothing you can do to control how you feel and how your body is responding. In fact, most of the things we worry about are out of our control, which can create even more anxiety! Think about your worries for a moment, which ones do you have direct control over? Sure you have some control over whether your partner leaves you (i.e. by not cheating on them), but you could also be the best partner in the world and they could still choose to leave you, and that’s out of your control.
Control creates a sense of security and can help when dealing with panic, so when faced with extreme anxiety about uncontrollable events, grounding exercises are an appropriate intervention. Grounding exercises are also taught by therapists as a way to help people learn to gain control over the situation by engaging in activities that bring them back to reality.
Whether a weighted blanket is or is not touching your skin is in your control. Whether you choose to use an intervention to diminish the symptoms of anxiety is also in your control. Control over oneself during distress can be empowering and can fuel the recovery of chronic mental health conditions.
Previously we wrote an article on interoception and how the connection between mind and body is pertinent for healthy mental health and can also act as a prevention for physical conditions. Grounding taps into this, as you notice yourself spiraling into a whirlwind of anxiety and worries about things out of your control, you’re likely going to have physiological symptoms that trigger your brain to react. Again, you have control over how to react, whether you believe it or not.
3 Weighted Blanket Grounding Techniques for Anxiety
1. Having Full Control
Weighted blankets are an excellent anxiety remedy because, again, you are in control of the pressure application, and knowing this in itself can be therapeutic and can give you a sense of comfort while using weighted blankets as a therapeutic intervention for anxiety. You are also in control of how much pressure is applied, and where on your body the pressure is applied to.
2. A pressure that can be Felt
Our brains naturally “get bored” of stimuli and stop paying attention. Think about wearing clothes, do you constantly notice the sensation of the clothing against your skin? Having an increase in pressure can prolong the sensation of touch, meaning you notice it longer. This is why weighted blankets can be a great tool for grounding. When you place the weighted blanket on yourself, the pressure can be felt and it becomes a tangible sensation you can hone in on to ground yourself to reality.
3. Reduces Physiological Response
Previously we have also discussed why pressure is an effective tool for mitigating anxiety symptoms –it reduces sympathetic arousal or the fight or flight instinct that accompanies anxiety. Weighted blankets quite literally shut down this system, because the body recognizes there is an absence of danger when pressure is applied to the skin. This phenomenon can help build that sense of control because without the physiological arousal that anxiety causes, you can think a bit more clearly and rationalize to yourself that the thing you are worried about may be out of your control.
Of course, there are always situations that you can control, and I am not saying that all anxiety it out of our control, but there is a significant portion that is and I reiterate this point to remind you to notice the differences in what is causing the anxiety. And of course, if you are experiencing anxiety about something that is in your control, then you have the ability to do something about that situation, which will likely mitigate the anxiety.
The grounding benefits and anxiety mitigation benefits of weighted blankets can be traced back to when we were all infants and our mothers and/or fathers swaddled us in blankets and held us close to their chests. This ingrained mechanism of pressure comfort has created a very easy grounding mechanism that we can all take pleasure in.