Earlier this summer, Meghan Markle was seen wearing an anti-stress patch, known as NuCalm Biosignal Processing Discs, that “provide the neurochemistry to accelerate the onset of the relaxation response,” according to the brand’s website. What’s more, they’re said to emit biosignals and frequencies that calm the body down.
NuCalm has a host of products, devices and an app that all share a common goal — to help you sleep better, focus better and relieve stress. The sticker Markle was seen wearing is meant to be used in conjunction with the app to reap the theoretical benefits.
These stickers are just one of several brands that have popped up with the aim to help users find some peace through a simple adornment. But can a patch have an effect on anxiety levels? Here’s what therapists say:
First, know there are a few different kinds of anti-anxiety and anti-stress patches.
As mentioned above, the patch Markle wore claims to emit calming frequencies, but there are other types of anti-stress patches that exist, too.
“I’ve seen circles or … a box breathing diagram, where you trace the pattern with your finger and then do a breathing exercise,” Anders said. “And when it’s on your body, it really helps to remind you to regulate your breathing.”
You may have heard of brands like Calm Strips, which are used as an anti-anxiety tool, but these don’t claim to send frequencies to the wearer.
So, do patches that emit frequencies work?
When it comes to the frequency sticker, “there’s very little scientific support for these kinds of strategies,” said Lynn Bufka, the associate chief for practice transformation at the American Psychological Association.
“I think what winds up happening is people promote them, they’re using words that sound like maybe there’s something there, but when you ask for what’s the data on it … I’m not finding many studies showing some support [for] these kinds of things [and] not finding many studies, period, of these kinds of tools,” Bufka added. “There’s no suggestion that that’s going to be helpful for a person’s well-being and functioning.”
While there’s some research on these tools, it’s limited so far, according to the experts we spoke to.
In one study conducted by NuCalm that found efficacy, study participants put stickers on their heads, not on their wrist, said Kate Hanselman, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with Thriveworks Counseling & Psychiatry in West Hartford, Connecticut. Additionally, the study was small — just 20 people. During the study, participants also listened to calming music and wore an eye mask.
“If I gave you an eye mask and some soothing music, and told you to sit for 10 minutes, you’d feel better, your heart rate would come down, which is great,” Hanselman said. “And if you think about it, if their program is that you do that process, and you wear the sticker, then as you go throughout your day, it’s sort of a Pavlovian response as you wear the sticker because you’ve been practicing, essentially meditating, and calming your system down.”
There is nothing wrong with using the sticker as a reminder of the calm you felt earlier, but Hanselman said you do not need a frequency-emitting sticker to achieve this.
“We can do that by just having you sit still, we can do that by having you believe that you’re going to be calm, we can do that by having you practice meditation.”
What about the other anti-stress stickers?
Experts feel a bit differently about the anxiety stickers that are there to remind the wearer to stay calm.
“The theory behind why they work and why they’re effective is because, essentially, they help promote a holistic way [of] managing anxiety by connecting your breath to physical sensations,” Anders said.
So, no special technology, but more of a helpful anti-anxiety nudge — and this can be really helpful.
Kia-Rai Prewitt, a psychologist with Cleveland Clinic’s Marymount Hospital, agreed. “Traditionally, when you think about treating anxiety, there have been different tools that people use to help remind them to do things to reduce stress, and so whether it’s a sticker or just a little reminder that you can tell yourself, there’s different ways that people can use prompting to help them manage anxiety,” Prewitt said.
These kinds of stickers can act as a prompt. In fact, many encourage breathing exercises through messaging or designs on the sticker.
Why is breath work so important in regard to anxiety symptoms? Well, your breath is directly connected with anxiety, Anders said. “Your autonomic nervous system is going haywire when you’re in fight or flight, and deep and controlled breathing activities help bring your body back into rest and digest, that state of being that promotes relaxation.”
When you’re feeling anxious or having a panic attack, your breath becomes rapid and your heart rate experiences, “and these physiological experiences are what contribute to the sensation to the feeling of anxiety. But with these patches and the stickers, they remind us to engage in a controlled pattern of breathing that helps normalize and regulate the breath,” Anders added.
So both of these kinds of stickers can be considered a prompt to take a few breaths and get yourself back into the present moment, but that’s about it.
Be wary of quick-fix stress and anxiety treatment.
When it comes to calming stickers, “this is money that you’re spending, you may want to think about other sources of what you spend your money on,” Bufka said.
Additionally, when it comes to stickers that are said to target your brainwaves, Prewitt said you should take extra caution.
“I would say do your research … there’s so many things advertised as quick fixes,” Prewitt said, noting that you should also chat with a doctor before trying a new treatment of any kind.
According to Prewitt, self-care is an important way to reduce stress and anxiety in your life. How can you feel your best if you aren’t taking care of yourself? This can look like getting a massage or getting a pedicure, but should also be more basic, too.
“Doing some type of physical movement, whether it’s taking a walk or stretching, doing things like mindfulness or meditation, watching your nutrition,” Prewitt said. You can go to YouTube for guided meditations, or check out meditation apps like Ten Percent Happier or Calm.
Bufka added that getting good sleep and having good social connections are also important tools.
Additionally, if you find that you’re really struggling, you can reach out to therapists or psychiatrists for support.
“Talk to somebody … a health care professional, psychologist, somebody about some recommendations for things that have evidence behind them as ways of learning to respond differently [and] manage their responses to anxiety,” Bufka said.