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Wearable device offers fresh hope for anxiety sufferers

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Anna Brech
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An NHS study has cast new light on the effectiveness of a wearable device in treating anxiety

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects around 5% of the population in the UK and – like all mental health conditions – there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy.

But an eye-opening new trial by the NHS has revealed that Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) offers a surprisingly high level of relief among anxiety sufferers. 

The treatment involves a wearable phone-sized device known as an Alpha-Stim AID, which is clipped to the earlobe. It stimulates the cranium and brain with tiny microcurrents that cannot be sensed by the person wearing it, but which promote a more relaxed state of being. 

It’s an approved and safe technique, but this is the first time NHS researchers have pinpointed its impact.

“Alpha-Stim CES was more effective at achieving remission than we expected,” study co-author Richard Morriss, a professor of psychiatry at Nottingham University, tells The Times. “As well as improvements in anxiety, there were improvements in depression and insomnia.”

The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, issued NHS patients suffering from GAD with a device to wear for 60 minutes a day over a period of six or 12 weeks.

The 161 volunteers had not previously responded to low intensity psychological treatment such as group therapy sessions or guided online self-help.

But over the course of using the Alpha-Stim AID, nearly 50% of sufferers achieved “significant improvement” on the GAD-7 scale used to measure severe anxiety. After 24 weeks, 48% patients were in remission from the condition (even though they had not used the device for at least 12 weeks).

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Volunteers reported significant improvement in anxiety symptoms

The results suggest that Alpha-Stim CES is as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a common treatment for anxiety disorders which often involves long waiting lists on the NHS.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence will now brief NHS services that are considering hiring out the device.

The approach has a number of advantages as a therapy; it is safe to use at home, and offers an alternative to mainstream remedies such as CBT or medication.

It’s actually been used around the world for more than 20 years, but has only been promoted in the UK for private use far more recently.

Anecdotally, those who have used the Alpha-Stim here in the UK say it’s helped with their anxiety. But, like any form of mental health treatment, its effect varies according to the individual in question. Typically, it may form one in a number of tools, including lifestyle factors such as exercise and diet, that can be combined in finding relief.

Do you suffer from anxiety? Find help and support with mental health charity Mind

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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