Updated: Dec 14, 2021
"How has your anxiety been affected by the pandemic?" I asked Courtney* just a few weeks into our first-ever lockdown. Given that she'd experienced anxiousness before the pandemic, I'd suspected that she'd be in a rough state.
"Oh, I'm just fine. It's the people who are noobies to this whole 'anxiety' thing that I'm worried about!" she joked.
And she had a point. As you can see from the graph below, the number of American adults who reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression increased a whopping 31% from 2019 to 2020.
The need for mental health professionals grew as quickly as COVID, with some federal distress lines experiencing a 1,000% increase in calls in comparison to April of 2019. People needed help, and they needed it quickly.
That's when I started to see a surge in ads for anti-anxiety devices.
Whenever I perused TikTok or Instagram (which was frequently), I saw a device to reduce anxiety, an app that could teach you how to meditate, or a blanket to help you sleep better.
But do these devices actually do anything? I gave three different devices a try to see for myself.
CONTESTANT NUMBER ONE: The CalmiGo
Claims: deemed an "anxiousness & stress device," the CalmiGo claims to deliver "relaxation in moments of anxiousness by adapting your breathing and naturally quieting four senses."
How to Use It:
The CalmiGo basically looks like an asthma inhaler. You turn on the device, place your mouth on the mouthpiece, and inhale through your nose. Upon inhaling, you'll smell a relaxing scent. As you breathe out through your mouth (and into the device), three lights will turn on slowly, one at a time, until the device vibrates, which cues you to inhale again.
The Science Behind It:
When we experience stress or anxiety, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. As our breathing becomes more shallow, our exhales also become shorter. (This is always why I get annoyed when people tell you to take deep breaths when you're stressed—you actually want to take slow exhales, not deep breaths!)
The CalmiGo helps you take longer, prolonged exhales to decrease feelings of distress and help balance your body's level of carbon dioxide. In fact, they've done studies where people inhaled carbon dioxide for 15 minutes, which caused some of them to experience a panic response. Essentially, long exhales help rid your body of excess carbon dioxide, which can diminish symptoms of anxiety.
The CalmiGo also states that the relaxing lavender scent can help decrease activity in our sympathetic nervous system.
Effectiveness & Likes:
For me, this was the most effective of the three anti-anxiety devices I tried. I truly liked that it activated all of my senses: the lights gave me a visual distraction, the scent stimulated my sense of smell, and I felt the vibrations in my hand. Whenever I used the CalmiGo, I was only able to focus on the process of breathing itself—something that is difficult for me. Plus, it did a fantastic good job of regulating my breathing, and you can experience benefits from just using it for three minutes.
The scents are made from pure aromatherapy oils, but the lavender didn't smell like true lavender for some reason. It's not that it smells bad by any means, but it had this synthetic, fake scent to it that wasn't my favourite. That said, leaving the device in the fresh air uncovered for a few days decreases the intensity. There are also other scents to choose from to give you more options.
At $179, the CalmiGo is an investment, though there is a 30-day money-back guarantee.
It's not the most conspicuous anti-anxiety device. That said, you can turn off the vibration function to make it less noisy.
Price & Discounts: regularly $179 - get $30 USD off with my discount code FRESHINSIGHT
Who This Is For: the person who wants an effective, portable anti-anxiety device that's easy to use, and who is okay with the fact that it's not the most discreet or sleek-looking thing.
CONTESTANT NUMBER TWO: The "Chill Pill" by Mend Your Mental (a.k.a. the one that's all over TikTok)
Claims: this handheld device uses Electrotherapy Stimulation technology to treat some of the "worst symptoms of anxiety and insomnia" and claims to be a "calming device designed for discrete, sweet relief."
How to Use It:
You simply turn on the device, hold it in your hand (or against any part of your body), and allow the electrical pulses to do their thing. The best way to describe the pulses is that they feel like someone is gently snapping a small rubber band from the inside of your hand. (Weird but true!) If it feels too much, you can decrease the intensity and frequency, with slower pulses being best suited for insomnia.
How It Works:
Created by psychologists and sleep specialists, The Chill Pill sends out small pulses that travel from the palm of your hand and into the rest of your body, telling your nervous system that "it's time to relax." Your hand will feel a tingle with each pulse as the tiny shockwaves build up your body's natural forms of serotonin and endorphins to quell anxiety. (You can watch their video here.)
Effectiveness & Likes:
I was thankful that there was a day during the weeks that I was using this device where I experienced particularly intense anxiety. The moment I held this in my hand and felt the electrical pulses, I actually felt my anxiety decrease, which was really neat.
That said, this did absolutely nothing for my insomnia. To be fair, I've had chronic, relentless insomnia since the age of 18 that a team of health professionals are still trying to crack, so I'm an exceptionally difficult test subject to use. But as an anti-anxiety device? Yeah, this thing's legit.
I also like that it can be quite discreet: you could be holding it under your desk during a meeting and no one would know! And at $65, it's nearly a third of the price of the CalmiGo.
Honestly, the pulses aren't a very pleasant feeling. In fact, I could barely hold the thing at first because I really didn't like the sensation, personally. However, I eventually got used to it and am thankful that you're able to adjust the intensity.
It's annoying to have to hold onto a device since it then interrupts whatever you're doing. My workaround for this was to roll up my sleeves and tuck it under so that the pulses could be felt in my inner forearm and I could use both of my hands again.
I always had to try putting the device in a bunch of different positions in my hand before I felt the pulses in the right spot and at the right intensity. The need to fiddle to get it "just right" can detract from a pleasant experience.
I know I'm an abnormally difficult subject, but this did nothing for my chronic insomnia.
It says that it takes using this consistently for 7 - 10 days to see results, so it might not be best for my fellow impatient folks.
Who This is For: the person who wants an alternative to breathing techniques and who's craving a more discreet, anti-anxiety device. This is not for the person who needs two hands to do most things during the day and who is sensitive to new physical sensations.
CONTESTANT #3: "The Shift" by Komuso Design
Claims: inspired by Japanese monks and designed by a therapist, The Shift is a necklace with a breathing device on the chain that helps slow your exhales to reduce anxiety.
How to Use It:
Simply put your mouth on the mouth piece of the device, inhale through your nose, and breathe out into the device for 8 - 10 seconds.
How It Works:
It slows down your breathing to help deactivate your sympathetic response (see my blurb from the "Calmigo" section for more info).
Effectiveness & Likes:
Although the CalmiGo uses a similar principle of helping to deactivate your sympathetic nervous system through slowing your breathing, at least it has more "stuff" going on—scents, lights, and vibrations. For me, it had the added bonus of engaging my mind and focus, which was awesome. With The Shift, you can achieve the same results by just exhaling slowly through pursed lips. So yes, this will help slow down your breathing but do I feel like someone needs a necklace to accomplish this task? Nope.
That said, this device is 100% the sleekest and most aesthetically pleasing of all of them. You're basically getting a really pretty piece of jewellery that comes with the bonus of helping you breathe better. It's a very well-made item, the chain is beautiful, and I would 100% wear this just because it's nice to look at. If you want something that provides a feeling of luxury, this one's for you.
It's pretty basic in terms of its function.
$111 is a lot to pay for something you can do entirely on your own.
Price & Discounts: regularly $111, click this link to access my FRESHINSIGHT discount code and save 20%
Who This is For: the person who finds breath work helpful, who likes aesthetically-pleasing items, and who likes simple, elegant jewellery.
The Bottom Line
I think it's wonderful that companies are starting to create devices to help people cope with anxiety. Plus, a lot of the people with whom I work say that they're looking for something to help them in the midst of an anxiety attack, which is where some of these tools can be enormously helpful.
Furthermore, all three of these companies have thousands of amazing reviews from people who have found a natural remedy for their anxiety, stress, and insomnia, which is especially wonderful to hear during this pandemic. It's neat that these products allow us to use the existing resources within our own bodies (like our own breath), and I give ALL of them props for helping to de-stigmatize things like anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia.
At the end of the days, I didn't dislike any of these products; some of them just worked better for my particular brain and lifestyle. If you're working from home and want an effective device to help calm you down as you're experiencing anxiety, check out the CalmiGo. Completely over breathing exercises? Go with The Chill Pill. Don't want to have to remember to bring a device with you? Put The Shift around your neck and have confidence that it's there when you need it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, email email@example.com to book an in-person or virtual psychotherapy sessions.
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity and confidentiality