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Does a Weighted Blanket Help with Depression?

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Depression is more than just feeling down in the dumps.  More than feeling bad at the loss of a relationship, job, or beloved pet.  For most people this kind of sadness is fleeting.   Something unfortunate happens, you feel terrible, and then you gradually start to get back to normal.

Clinical depression (major depressive disorder) is different.  And much more serious.  It’s being consistently sad over a long period of time, regardless of what’s happening in your life

After anxiety, depression is, hands down, the most common mental health disorder.  The National Institute of Mental Health reports that over 16 million adults in the United States or 6.7%, are diagnosed with depression in any given year, while 21% of adults will be affected by it sometime during their lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the world’s leading cause of disability.  Although women are twice as likely to suffer from depression, men are more likely to take their own lives because of it. 

To get a formal diagnosis of a major depressive disorder, a qualified health professional will evaluate the patient’s symptoms over at least a two week period.  Additionally, they’ll also determine whether other things like certain medical conditions, other psychiatric disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, or intense grief over a major loss might be causing the feelings of sadness.

 

What are the symptoms of clinical depression? 

So, you’ve been feeling down and out of sorts.  Are you just having a rough patch or is it something more serious? A psychologist, psychiatrist, or your doctor are in the best position to decide whether or not you’re clinically depressed, but in general the indicators include: 

  • Having a general lack of energy or always feeling tired
  • Feeling sad, lonely, or empty for most of every day
  • Not having an interest or getting pleasure from activities you used to enjoy
  • Difficulty thinking clearly, remembering things, focusing, or making decision
  • Feeling worthless or guilty 
  • Getting extremely irritated, frustrated, or angry at what would otherwise be small annoyances
  • Constantly feeling restless or agitated 
  • Trouble sleeping, including waking up in the middle of the night, insomnia, or sleeping too much
  • Have a decreased interest in eating that leads to weight loss, although some depressed people feel hungrier than usual and gain weight
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, or more concerning, suicide plans or attempts

 

What causes depression?

So, do people just fall into a funk or is there something else going on? 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression doesn’t have one single cause. It can be triggered by a medical condition, life crisis, or a variety of other things. But sometimes, people do just get depressed out of the blue.  Researchers have found that a number of things can cause people to become depressed.

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  • Genetics. If your parents or a relative suffer from depression, you might be more susceptible to experiencing it too. Mood disorders tend to run in families.
  • Trauma. When children experience abuse, severe illness, or witness a violent event, it can cause significant, long-term changes in how their brains cope with stress and fear that can lead to depression. 
  • Life events. Marital status, relationship difficulties, financial stability and even where a person lives can influence whether or not a person develops depression.
  • Brain changes.  Certain changes in how the pituitary gland and hypothalamus react to hormone stimulation are associated with depression. Imaging research studies have revealed that the frontal lobe of the brain is less active when a person is depressed.
  • Co-Occurring Disorders. People who have other conditions like difficulty sleeping, chronic pain, diabetes, cancer, eating disorders, or Alzheimer’s as well as anxiety, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to develop depression. Some medications have side effects that can also cause symptoms of depression.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse. A 2018 study showed that a full 21% of adults who misused substances like drugs and alcohol also had an episode of major depression.  

 

What are the treatments for depression?

When you’re down, everything in your life is affected.  You don’t feel like interacting with your loved ones or kids.  The activities and hobbies you loved to do no longer bring you joy.  Unlike a physical pain, it’s tough to just power through depression and live with it.    Your happiness is who you are.

You’d think that would be a strong motivation to get treatment.  Unfortunately, because of the nature of the condition, it saps your energy and will to overcome it.  If you’ve talked to you doctor, they may have recommended some common treatments, including:

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Psychotherapy

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, has a great track record of addressing and resolving depression by teaching you to recognize negative thoughts and provide coping strategies to overcome them.  
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) focuses on solving personal relationship problems and other changes in life.  
  • Psychodynamic Therapy is an approach that works to help you understand and resolve negative patterns arising from past experiences. 

Group Therapy

  • Psychoeducation teaches people about their condition, how to cope with it, and how to recognize when they are slipping back into a depression.
  • Support Groups give members the chance to share their experiences and ways to successfully deal with the symptoms of depression. 

Medications

  • In recent years, a wide range of antidepressant medications have come on the market that are designed to help reduce or control symptoms. Many of these medications are very effective but have to be prescribed by a doctor and often take 2-4 weeks to begin working and then up to 12 weeks to achieve full results. 

Exercise

  • Researchers have found that aerobic exercise can help treat mild depression.  A brisk walk around the neighborhood, a few sets of tennis, invigorating laps in a pool increases endorphins and stimulates norepinephrine, which can improve a person’s mood. 

Weighted Blankets

Most psychological and medical experts agree that the most effective way to improve your mood and climb out of the hole depression can make you feel like you’re in is to use a combination of these therapies.

If you’re severely depressed that might mean intensive psychotherapy and a variety of medications.   If you’re mildly depressed, getting more exercise and meeting with a support group may do the trick.  The most important thing is to make an effort.

Even making small changes in your life can break the vicious cycle of anxiety and insomnia that can lead to exhaustion and an inability to chase off negative thoughts.  One of the easiest – and least invasive – things you can do is to add a cool weighted blanket into your mix of strategies to defeat depression.

 

What are the benefits of weighted blankets for depression?

Depression is a condition whose very definition involves a feeling of mentally being brought low.   So, it’s interesting that the benefits of a weighted blanket for depression are directly tied to the beneficial therapeutic effects of literally bringing a person down by physically “grounding” them. 

The weight of the blanket generates what is called deep pressure stimulation that has been clinically proven to help alleviate the anxiety that is a major component of depression as well as encourage the kind of deep, uninterrupted slumber that insomnia robs people of. 

Research has shown that the pressure that comes with the best weighted blankets for adults heavy weighted blankets trigger the release of  two important neurotransmitters - serotonin and dopamine. These two chemicals that affect mood  can reduce agitation and make you feel more serene, peaceful, and relaxed. 

 

But what about the specific effects on people suffering from depression?

Dr. Deborah Serani, a licensed psychologist and award-winning author of Living with Depression, Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers and Depression in Later Life had this to say about her experience using a weighted blanket in a recent article in the online edition of Psychology Today:

“Now, the true test was when I used the blanket on days that were stress or when I felt down and melancholy. The deep pressure of the blanket immediately shifted my mood, reduced my irritability and helped me feel relaxed. I’ve also used it to sleep through the night many times, noting when I do, I fall asleep more quickly and feel fully rested when I awaken.”

 

What’s the best weighted blanket for you?

20 lb weighted blanket

Personal preference has a lot to do with choosing the right weighted blanket.   It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist before using a weighted blankest for depression. They’ll give you input on whether a 10 lb weighted blanket, 15 lb weighted blanket, or 20 lb weighted blanket would be the best weighted blanket for you.  

You can then move on to reviews of weighted blankets.  

It’s smart to look for a washable weighted blanket since you will likely be using it every night in bed, on the couch watching TV, or even at the office when you want the comforting “hug” that a weighted blanket for adults or a weighted blanket for kids provides.

Fabric is another consideration.  Many people prefer natural fabrics but most gravitate toward the comfort that a super-soft “minky” fabric provides.  In terms of size, choose a heavy blanket that is the same or one size down from your bed.   If you have a queen size bed, you can get a full size blanket or queen size weighted blanket.  If you have a king sized bed, you can get a king or queen size weighted blanket.  Resist the urge to get one that hangs over the edge as the weight will tend to drag it off your bed.  Finally, choose a color that compliments your bedspread and overall bedroom décor to create a soothing, stress-relieving oasis that is as visually appealing as it is physically and mentally comforting. 

Depression can be a tough condition to overcome.  But by using all the tools available – including a weighted blanket – you can find serenity, sleep soundly, and reclaim the joy that you’ve been missing in your life.