Corsets as Deep Pressure Therapy & Relaxation (for Autism, Anxiety, ADHD, Somatosensory Disorders)
This article covers another area in how corsets can affect us positively in a physical, mental and emotional manner, except instead of discussing how corsets affect our confidence through posture, I hope to show you how the deep touch pressure of a corset can induce a calming effect on some wearers. Once again this has less to do with what your figure looks like or how many inches you can cinch down – tightlacing is not mandatory for this to work – this has more to do what level of pressure you personally may find enjoyable.
If you would rather watch or listen, feel free to view the video I’ve prepared below. This article is more or less a transcript of the video.
It’s widely known that firm touch (deep pressure) tends to calm and relax the recipient, while a superficial/ light touch can excite or agitate – this is an observation made by both occupational therapists who work with people, and also animal workers who deal with mammals such as cows, horses and pigs. You may experience this yourself from day-to-day life where you find that some your pets like being hugged or cuddled (for a short while). This theory is certainly true for me – even as a toddler, I had enjoyed being cuddled (firm pressure), but tickling (light pressure) would induce agitation and anxiety.
It’s easy to see how humans, in their day-to-day behaviour, seek out or give deep touch pressure as a way of caring for others or comforting themselves – it’s why we swaddle our babies to calm them down, as it’s thought to mimic the pressure they felt in the womb. We socially seek out hugs from other people, or schedule a massage when we’re feeling stressed. It is customary among some families to tuck their children in at night, which involves wrapping the sheets firmly around the children so it’s difficult to roll around. Some of my old friends like to cocoon or “burrito” themselves in blankets when they sleep. I myself have trouble sleeping unless my blanket is heavy enough. Some people don’t do any of these things, but they like to do other things such as wear tight socks or tie their shoes tightly.
Temple Grandin’s research and development of the “Squeeze Machine” for Autism
Dr. Temple Grandin, Ph.D is a wonderful woman who was herself diagnosed with autism as a child. She remembers as a child being overwhelmed with sensory input, and using deep pressure as a self-therapy to calm down her nervous system. This seems to be common in many autistic children; in that they be observed rolling on the floor wrapped in blankets or mats. Dr. Grandin explains this in her article, “Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals”, and also eloquently shows how deep pressure applied on the body (especially bilaterally, i.e. on left and right sides of the body) through the use of a “squeeze machine” or “hug machine” can help many autistic people relax, calm down their overstimulated nervous system, and possibly over time even become more positively responsive to touch by other people or animals.
The squeeze machine is a device wherein the user lays face down inside and is personally in total control of how much pressure the sides of the machine exerts on either side of the body. Depending on the specific type of machine, this may employ a simple pulley system or may be controlled by hydraulics (the machine used in the study employed hydraulic pressure). The user can also choose how much time to spend in this machine, although about 15 minutes seemed to be the duration in this particular article. It has shown to produce feelings of weightlessness, sleepiness, relaxation and de-stressing or comfort in the user.
Use of the squeeze machine for 15 minutes a day has been shown to have a positive effect on the temperament of some people diagnosed with autism, ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder or panic attacks or certain types of somatosensory disorders, and can be used as a real form of therapy either in sessions with an occupational therapist, or in the privacy of one’s home.
When I had asked on Facebook if anyone had positive experiences with deep pressure therapy, I received a handful of responses (more than I had expected!) from people specifically with sensory integration dysfunction/ sensory processing disorder or similar. They had explained how deep pressure can help:
Deep pressure to calm somatosensory issues, and corsets as a barrier from overstimulation
Remember back to my “Corsets, Nerves and Pain” article where I explained the difference between mechanoreceptors (which recognise touch and pressure), and nocireceptors (which make you feel temperature and pain). Certain mechanoreceptors are activated depending on the type of touch you receive, which is how you can discriminate so many different types of pressure, texture, etc.
Meissner’s corpuscles are extremely sensitive, and easily activated when one feels light, fluttery motions on the skin. For example, you have a lot of Meissner’s corpuscles in your fingertips and your lips.
Pacinian corpusles are slightly less sensitive, and activated with deeper pressure or vibration as they’re usually located deeper in the skin.
Although Meissner’s corpuscles are extremely sensitive and highly adaptive, your brain usually shuts down the signals from your nerves somewhat by habituation, which is why you initially felt when you put your shirt on this morning, but your brain doesn’t spend all day telling you, “you have a shirt on. You have a shirt on. You have a shirt on.”
In the case of sensory integration dysfunction, this habituation doesn’t occur as well (or at all) so a person with this issue may feel and sense every little thing going on around them, causing sensory overload. And during a sensory episode, this person may find themselves hypersensitive to touch to the point that a gentle flutter of their clothing or a soft breeze can be nerve-grating. In these situations, some people find it beneficial to use deep pressure therapy. If they don’t have a therapist around to help calm down their sensory input, or if they don’t own a squeeze machine, they might be able to use a corset (which also has the added benefit of being portable and available at nearly all times). The right type of custom-made corset can give a firm but safe and uniform pressure all throughout the torso from chest to hips. This activates their Pacinian corpuscles, which gives them a feeling of firm pressure at a rate that they can personally control, which they may find calming or soothing. At the same time, a corset can literally provide a barrier between the person and the light fluttering of their clothes, which may help to calm down their nervous system.
Corsets & therapy for anxiety (+ my own experience)
I like to think of my corset as a sort of portable mini “squeeze machine” that I can use anywhere, except extending only from chest to hips instead of from neck to feet. I also wear mine for several hours instead of 15 minutes. (But this is just what I prefer! If you only like to wear your corset for a few minutes or perhaps an hour at a time, that’s great. Whatever works for you!)
When I started wearing corsets on a regular basis, it coincided with a rather depressing time in my life – as I had mentioned in previous posts: my confidence wasn’t great, and it was also a time of isolation. I was living away from my family, my workload was such that I barely socialized outside of work or school, the friends that I kept around me were not the hugging type, my relationship was long-distance, and truthfully I didn’t have a lot of human interaction or opportunity to hug people. There’s an old-wives tale that says we need no less than seven hugs a day for good health, and I was perhaps managing a handshake once a day. Maybe that’s one reason that I loved the feeling of a corset so much – while it doesn’t replace human interaction, it provided a persistent hugging feeling that was as strong or as gentle as I wanted, or as long or as short as I wanted, because I had total control of the laces at all times. It was very comforting to me. Nowadays I have much more human interaction and don’t necessarily need the corset as a form of pressure as therapy during isolation, but I still enjoy the cozy feeling it gives.
Armor – corsets may provide a sense of protection
A well-fitting corset can feel like a pair of strong arms holding you and protecting you at all times – this did a lot to calm my anxiety, relieve my tremors, and nullify the butterflies in my stomach whenever I had to do something challenging such as public speaking. (I worked part-time as a TA and lectured once a week in front of a group of nearly 80 students, and often wore my corset under my lab coat.) You might remember me saying in a previous post about “Corsets and Confidence” that my very erect posture made me feel vulnerable and exposed (even though I was inadvertently giving off the vibe of confidence). Although that was true, the vulnerability was also somewhat negated by the fact that the corset felt like a shield of defense. If someone ever offended me with their words, or even if a stranger tried to put their hand around my waist in a night club, the corset felt literally like a layer of armor protecting me – I couldn’t feel the creep’s hand because the corset is a barrier, separating him from me. (Obviously, I’d still slap the hand and get away from the man.)
I’ve read several testimonies from women who have reported feeling safer when wearing their corset, following a physical or emotional traumatic experience. Once again, the corset not meant to replace any other form of therapy but may provide a drug-free method of complimenting their therapy. It is also important to note that a corset is not supposed to lead the wearer into a false sense of security or encourage them to get themselves into stupid situations. A corset is not a bulletproof vest, a chastity belt or an invisibility cloak, nor should it be viewed or treated as such.
Deep pressure/ corseting can work for people with no underlying issues or challenges
(but is still not for everyone)
Deep pressure therapy can work on people who are not diagnosed with any of the previously mentioned things – autism, anxiety, sensory disorders, etc. Just like many people enjoy hugs or massages, many people can enjoy deep pressure / corseting without having any underlying diagnosis or issue. It doesn’t work on everyone however, and shouldn’t be expected to work on everyone the exact same way. As Dr. Grandin states, autistic spectrum is very heterogeneous disorder, so what works one autistic person may not work for another. And someone with anxiety may feel claustrophobic in a squeeze machine. And then there are some people who don’t feel calm and relaxed by corseting at all, but they feel that it energizes or stimulates them. What works for one person may not work for another from an enjoyable sensory standpoint.
It’s just another reason that some people take to corsets and others don’t. This is why if someone I know tries on a corset for the first time and doesn’t like the feeling, I don’t pressure them into it. Some people may also be comfortable with higher amounts of pressure/ a drastic waist reduction in their corsets, while others are more comfortable with very light pressure/ very small amount of waist reduction. Remember that many people corset for very different reasons, and these reasons are also often very personal. Waist training /extended wear is not a requirement of wearing or owning a corset, nor is tightlacing/ corseting at high reductions. As long as use of a corset is done in a safe and responsible manner, and feels “right” to the wearer, I see nothing wrong with this.
If you’d like further reading about how deep pressure therapy can help both humans and animals, I’ve provided some links (though I have not personally tried these and these links are for information, not to be taken as recommendation):
SnugVest – inflatable vest.
Spio Suit – pressure garments made specially for children.
Calming Hugs – weighted hug vests and weighted blankets.
The Anxiety Wrap – for hyperactive and anxious dogs.
Thunder Shirt/ Thunder Vest – to help calm pets during storms, help deal with separation anxiety, etc.
*Please note that this article contains my opinion and is provided for informational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical physician. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset for any reason.*