Do you feel like your stress levels are off the charts? Having difficulty with anxiety or the winter blues? If so, it might be time to try deep pressure stimulation, also commonly referred to as Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation (DTPS). What is DTPS or DPS? Ever notice how it can feel so relaxing to receive a firm hug from someone you love? This is DPS in action! Deep pressure stimulation (DPS) helps to relax the nervous system by providing calming sensory input that releases serotonin and dopamine in response while simultaneously decreasing cortisol.
It's most commonly associated with use by or for Autistic people, but it can also help with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and sensory processing disorders in non-Autistic people alike. It can help with physical pain too. There's likely even more uses out there as research is still being done.
So what is this technique all about, and how does its application provide relief? Read on to learn more about DPS and how it can benefit your body and mind!
What is deep pressure stimulation, and what are its benefits?
DPS is a form of deep touch pressure that provides calming sensory input to the body. It works by applying consistent, firm but gentle pressure to specific areas of the body, which helps to reduce levels of physical and mental tension.
DPS helps to produce oxytocin, a hormone that has been found to reduce cortisol levels and induce a sense of calmness and relaxation. It also increases serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Endorphins are the body's natural pain relief hormones, which can help with physical pains like headaches or muscle tension.
Overall, DPS can provide the body and mind with genuine relaxation, reducing stress levels and allowing you to feel more energized and focused. It's something that can benefit everyone if done in a way that feels right to the individual.
How to use deep pressure stimulation for relaxation &/or self-guided therapy
Deep pressure stimulation is an effective way to promote deep relaxation and reduce stress. It can be used in various ways, like deep touch massage, weighted blankets or wraps, deep pressure bodywork, and more.
By applying gentle, consistent pressure to the body and deep connective tissues, this type of stimulation helps to relax the nervous system, bringing deep relief mentally and physically.
DPS affects the autonomic nervous system by helping to balance the sympathetic nervous system (rest) & the parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), which are often out-of-balance when someone is under severe stress or has a sensory processing disorder.
Deep pressure stimulation can benefit many people, from reducing the stress hormone Cortisol, to assisting those with anxiety, depression, muscle tension, and other physical ailments.
When using deep pressure stimulation for yourself, it is best to start slowly and use light pressure—enough to make you feel relaxed but not uncomfortable.
By applying gentle, consistent pressure to the body's deep connective tissues—with the help of a trained professional if needed—you can reap the benefits of this therapeutic practice. So go ahead and explore DPS tools, techniques, and activities to release the tension in your body and mind!
Is Deep Pressure Stimulation Taught in ABA Programs?
Although DPS has been studied and taught in ABA programs with the purpose of changing Autistic behavior in the past, we don't support any tool or technique that is aimed at changing behavior patterns for the sake of other people's comfort and instead we're focused on how this technique can help the user feel better themselves, whether medically diagnosed as Autistic or not.
As a neuro-divergent family that respects the voices of Autistic adults that have spoken out against ABA Therapy as being traumatic and cruel, we do not support the use of ABA therapy or techniques. Any discussion of ABA techniques hereafter is simply informational regarding what has been done and is currently being done.
The simple answer is yes, forms of deep pressure therapy are usually included in educational programs on ABA. It's worth noting here that just because the tool is included in ABA education, does not make the tool itself bad or wrong. Deep pressure therapy has successfully helped many many people and there are ways that you can respectfully use it even when assisting another Autistic child/person. The how and the why are critical in the differentiation between appropriate or not.
As stated above, this technique can help a wide range of people from someone with a sensory processing disorder (not always Autistic), to someone with anxiety, depression, or physical issues that come from tight tissue. We want the focus of this article to be the many ways that DPS can help a wide range of people, not the history or application of ABA.
The different types of DPS devices
A wide range of DPS devices available today can provide calming input. Some of the most popular types include weighted blankets, compression vests, deep pressure massage rollers, and body wraps. A newer tool to the DPS world are weighted stuffed animals.
Each device offers different levels of stimulation depending on the individual's needs and preferences. So let's take a closer look:
A weighted blanket, is typically filled with small weighted beads that provide full-body pressure when a person is laying underneath and snuggled up in the blanket. These are often used to ease anxiety and provide a feeling of safety so that the user can relax and gain better sleep quality.
Weighted blankets are no longer restricted to the heavy comforter styles that have been used for quite some time (and are still wonderful for many people), but come in smaller lap-size blankets now too. Weighted lap blankets are commonly used for students with ADHD or have other sensory processing disorders that need some help to focus on their less-desirable tasks like schoolwork, but adults may find that using them can help them be more productive while working as well.
If you Google "weighted vest" you're likely to come across commercial listings for exercise equipment designed to improve endurance, but that's not what we're talking about here. Similarly the term "compression vest" often brings up results for medical grade garments designed for use after surgery. Sensory compression vests are garments that can be weighted or not, depending on the vest and the person buying it. Some are just neoprene fabric with Velcro, designed to provide firm even pressure to the entire torso giving that gentle squeeze that can feel like a tight hug. Others have adjustable weights that go on the chest, stomach, or back area.
Massage rollers can be used to massage various parts of the body to provide deep tissue stimulation only to certain body parts at a time. They come in different sizes, shapes, and densities, so finding the right roller might take some experimentation on your part. There are multiple YouTube videos that show how you can use massage rollers to assist with releasing tight muscles as well as the therapeutic effects of deep pressure therapy work.
Body wraps or body socks are large pieces of fabric with some stretch to them that are used to provide a full-body light pressure. There's all kinds out there and we've tried some in our home, but they haven't been very popular here. Many people find that putting one on before sitting or laying down to read or watch tv helps them feel safer and calmer. It's definitely a unique feeling though and we think it's probably something you either really like or really don't like.
Weighted stuffed animals come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and weights. If you want a large green dinosaur or a smaller puppy, there's a weighted stuffed animal out there for you. They can be used like a lap blanket, shoulder wrap, it can lay on your chest as you ground yourself on the floor, or you can wrap the stuffed limbs around you to feel like a solid hug. They're growing in popularity with children for obvious reasons, but there's no reason an adult can't have a weighted black bear or puppy to cuddle with too!
Weighted shoulder wraps, sometimes called shoulder buddies when using with children, are similar to the lap blankets in that they are small, used for targeted area pressure, and made to be used while the person is awake and performing other activities. They've gained some popularity recently as a tool to help children with ADHD focus on lower-dopamine activities like schoolwork.
Other weighted accessories
There are weighted hats, weighted pillows, gloves with pellets added for weight, and many other types of accessories that can be bought these days. This article would never end if we tried to cover them all! It's likely that the market for weighted items will only continue to grow as more people become aware of the benefits, especially in our very stressful modern lives. So if you're looking for something that will work for you and haven't found it yet, we encourage you to keep exploring the internet, because it's almost certain there's an item out there that can fit your needs.
It's important to point out that DPS should never be painful or cause discomfort - if this is the case, you may need to try a different type of DPS device or adjust the pressure being applied with the tool.
How to choose the right device for your needs
When it comes to DPS, there are a variety of tools and devices available. How do you know which one is right for you?
It's important to consider the type of DPS that works best for your body. Consider the size of your body and how intense the pressure needs to be to feel comfortable and relaxing. Do you want something on a key part of your body or more of a full-body feel?
Choosing a device that fits your budget is also important, as DPS tools can range from inexpensive to more expensive, depending on their size, weight, materials and quality. Keep in mind that you may want to try a few different products before committing to one.
Another important factor to consider is the environment in which you will be using your DPS device. If you plan on using it at home, you'll have lots of options and need only consider what works best for you plus the space it might take to store.
If you plan on taking your DPS device with you outside, look for compact devices that are easy to transport and store. A heavy weighted blanket might not be the best option if you're going to the park or beach, but a vest or roller might work better.
With some careful consideration and a little web surfing, you'll be able to find the DPS device that best suits your needs and preferences!
Deep pressure stimulation exercises and activities you can try at home
DPS can be used in a variety of ways, like deep massage techniques, deep pressure touch (like using weighted blankets), and deep pressure activities. Here are some DPS exercises and activities you can try at home to help manage your stress and anxiety:
Deep Pressure Massage involves stroking, kneading, and applying deep pressure massage techniques on the body. There are tons of massage videos on YouTube and other areas of the internet, but if you're performing this on someone else, we encourage you to consult a professional Massage therapist or Occupational therapist first.
One easy-to-use technique is to simply give yourself a hug! To do this, grab your shoulder or upper arm with one hand, (it doesn't matter which, just go with whatever feels most natural to you) and wrap your other arm around underneath with that hand pressed firmly underneath the arm or around the side of the upper bicep. You want this to feel firm, but not uncomfortable. Now hold that position for 10 seconds+. Ta da! How do you feel? Many people like to combine this hugging technique with closing their eyes and taking some deep breaths.
There's variations on the hugging technique that include pressing one hand on your upper chest and the other on your opposite ribs or even the stomach. Experiment with what feels best to you and really pay attention to how your body is physically responding. Spontaneous deep breaths or yawns are a great sign that you're getting some mental health benefits out of the exercise.
There's actually many benefits to dry brushing our skin from lymphatic system drainage, blood circulation, skin exfoliation, and more, but the therapeutic brushing we're talking about here is actually done very differently than lymphatic system brushing. Therapeutic brushing is designed to provide that deep sensation to the skin and is often combined with joint compression.
DPS Activities include deep stretching/yoga, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation. These can help to calm the mind and body by focusing on deep pressure sensations, which helps to induce a relaxed state of being.
Exercises like jumping jacks and push-ups can actually provide some deep pressure sensations and joint compressions that help and can be done anywhere, anytime, by anybody (assuming physical health permits of course.)
Stress balls, as the name explains, and other squeezable devices can provide pressure for the hands that helps to relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and help the user focus on the present.
By incorporating DPS into your life, you can experience deep relaxation, stress reduction, lower blood pressure, and improve your overall mental
and physical health.
From reducing stress and anxiety to improving PTSD symptoms, deep pressure stimulations may provide non-invasive and low-cost care methods for all kinds of people with a variety of needs. If you or a loved one are in occupational therapy, it's likely that you will be provided with tools and techniques to use, but you don't have to be receiving therapy to gain some of the many benefit from deep pressure therapy work. With the growing research on DPS and expanded social awareness, more tools, devices, and techniques are likely to be developed in the near future. We hope this article has given you some information you might not have already known or the curiosity to explore whether or not any deep pressure therapy tools might be beneficial to your overall health and well being.
Questions and Answers
Why not use person-first language?
Medically, Autism is still referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the US and treated as a developmental disorder, but many Autistic adults feel it's an outdated term as Autism is not a disorder of the brain, but rather a different way the brain functions. It doesn't progress like a disease, can't be cured, and truly can't be separated from the individual as it impacts every part of who they are. Autistic people have neuro-divergent brains, not sick or broken brains. So by saying "Autistic person" versus "person with Autism" you are showing that Autistic is a characteristic that is inseparable and core to the persons' being.
How does deep pressure stimulation work?
Deep pressure stimulation provides a firm tactile sensory input that helps to relax the central nervous system to produce a calming effect. Soothing pressure is used to provide proprioceptive input with specific tools or even just body weight. This not only produces feel good neurotransmitters but serves to lower anxiety and stress.
Why do Autistic kids like deep pressure?
Not all Autistic people like deep pressure, but it is most commonly associated with Autism. Often Autistic individuals may have sensory issues due to their neurological differences, causing them to be sensitive to certain tactile sensations.
Deep pressure stimulation helps provide a firm and consistent deep pressure touch stimulation that can help regulate the nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic systems) and provide anxiety alleviation along with endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.
Does a weighted blanket help with sensory issues?
Weighted blankets provide deep pressure input that can help reduce physical tension and anxiety while promoting deep relaxation with its calming effects.
They are often used to help with sensory issues as deep pressure helps to provide sensory input that can improve focus and attention, improve PTSD symptoms, regulate the nervous system, and provide an improvement in overall well being.
Most commonly, weighted blankets are used to help those with difficulty sleeping, as the deep pressure helps to promote deep relaxation and a feeling of safety.
Weighted blankets should always be used with caution and under the guidance of a qualified medical professional, especially with children and non-verbal persons. It is important to regularly check in with your healthcare provider to ensure that the weight of the blanket is appropriate for the individuals' needs.
Are there therapy dogs trained for deep pressure stimulation?
Yes, there are therapy dogs, or psychiatric service dogs, specifically trained to provide deep pressure therapy by using their body weight and warmth to assist the person they're working with. The dog is trained to recognize the person’s symptom like an increase in anxiety, a PTSD flashback, and more. They then place their body or head on the persons' lap, chest, or pressed against their size. This depends on the dogs size and the persons' preference.