What is Deep Pressure Therapy and How Can It Help With Anxiety, Autism, and ADHD?

Weighted blankets have become an extremely popular product over the last few years, but most people don’t know about Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), the technique utilized by weighted blankets to calm anxiety and let you get a good night’s sleep. Though we didn’t always know it, humans have likely always had mental illnesses and different neurotypes such as autism, anxiety, depression, and more. However, it was only relatively recently that we began researching what causes mental illnesses and, more importantly, how to treat them. Pursuing a way to treat the symptoms of her own autism, it was Temple Grandin who pioneered DPT.  

Most people get deep pressure stimulation via hugging/cuddling

Today, Grandin is a relatively well-known autistic spokesperson, but she also has a doctorate in animal science. Grandin is also well-known for her advocacy for the humane treatment of livestock, which led her to become a consultant for the livestock industry. It was in performing this job that she was inspired to create her Hug Machine, which is meant to reduce tension and anxiety (things that Grandin often suffered from, due to her being autistic). Grandin had noticed that her anxiety and tension caused her to crave deep pressure stimulation (most people get deep pressure stimulation via hugging/cuddling), but her autism also made hugs from other people overstimulating. Grandin came up with the idea for her Hug Machine after noticing that agitated cows would sometimes calm down when placed in a squeeze chute. Grandin designed a similar device, but fit for humans rather than cows.

The Hug Machine. Invented by Temple Gradin

So, what is it about DPT that makes it so beneficial to individuals with autism, anxiety, and ADHD?

While not many studies have been done using Grandin’s Hug Machine, those studies that have been done seem to indicate that DPT is beneficial for individuals with autism and anxiety. It is also believed that DPT could help individuals with ADHD as well. So, what is it about DPT that makes it so beneficial to individuals with autism, anxiety, and ADHD?

The reason that DPT is so beneficial is because it causes the brain to release Oxytocin, a hormone that serves a number of functions in our brains.

 It’s heavily involved in reproduction for women, initiating contractions prior to delivery and milk release thereafter. But Oxytocin is also involved in social cognition behaviors. It can ease symptoms of anxiety, depression, autism, and even physical pain. Not only that, but Oxytocin is also involved in mother/infant bonding and romantic connection. As you may have guessed from Grandin’s Hug Machine, hugging and cuddling is the main way that people get Oxytocin. Other ways to release Oxytocin include orgasm and feeling empathy for someone else.

The Weighted Blanket. Invented by Keith Zivalich

So, Oxytocin sounds like a pretty wonderful hormone, doesn’t it? But what if, like Grandin, you find hugging/cuddling to be overstimulating, but, unlike Grandin, you don’t have the time/expertise to reconfigure a cow press into a hug machine? Well, as mentioned above, weighted blankets also use DPT to release Oxytocin. That’s why Keith Zivalich, the inventor of the weighted blanket, calls his Magic Weighted Blankets “the blankets that hug you back.”

Millions of people around the world have purchased weighted blankets since Zivalich invented them.  And, although there haven't been any major studies done on the efficacy of weighted blankets, many reviews for the product claimed that using a weighted blanket improved sleep and reduced anxiety. Some have referred to weighted blankets as  a life changing product.  More research needs to be done, but anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that weighted blankets are an effective form of DPT.  But don't take those reviewers' word for it, get your own weighted blanket and feel that Oxytocin rush for yourself.