You can learn a lot about what people think about you, from the presents they buy you on your birthday. For my 28th birthday this year, I was given a book on self-worth, a box of worry dolls and some 24k gold-plated ‘ear seeds’ which promised (on the box) to “calm anxiety”. I admit, it’s been a hell of a year – I’ve suffered a break up, housing problems and gone through huge career changes – but… ear seeds? What are they?
Over on TikTok, these tiny little nuggets have been touted as something of a ‘miracle cure’ for anxiety and stress, and videos discussing the hashtag #earseeds have almost 90 million views. Yet despite the current internet storm around them, they are actually an ancient remedy.
Originating in traditional Chinese medicine practices from around 3000 years ago, ear seeds work as tiny acupressure devices, made out of ceramic, metal or – more traditionally – herbs. They are placed on the ear’s acupuncture points with waterproof tape and supposedly aid with calming pain, insomnia, anxiety, grief and even substance abuse.
Once in place, you’re supposed to massage them 2-3 times a day, and this will apparently release natural endorphins by, according to the box, “sending signals to the reflex centres of the brain to relax your nervous system and promote healing.”
But do they actually do anything, or is this resurgence down to the fact they look kinda cute when you’ve got them in? Desperate enough to try anything, and conscientious enough not to disregard a gift, I decided to put my new ear seeds through an intensive trial.
I planned three high stress ‘situations’ over seven days, that would usually provoke enough anxiety to make me double lock the front door and close the curtains. Armed with a pair of tweezers and a card explaining which points to put the seeds on, I faffed and fiddled around with my ears longer than even my ear piercer did all those years ago. Seven strategically placed seeds later, I felt armoured up and ready to dive into pure stress.
Test one: The tube in rush hour
Any Londoner knows the hierarchical nature of the tube lines. The smelliest, the hottest, the noisiest. But if there’s one thing we all fear, it is the central line in rush hour. A sweaty, claustrophobic pit of angry city dwellers, shopaholics that have raided every shop on Oxford Street; and now an overly keen journalist conducting ‘experiments’ that nobody asked for.
I’d been working all day and eager to get a seat for the 45 minute journey home, which was a rich ask, especially as it was 31 degrees outside. Naturally, I spent the journey squished by the door, and stepping on and off at each stop to let people out.
But as I massaged my ears and took some deep breaths, I realised my heart rate hadn’t actually fluctuated, I didn’t feel anxious and – apart from it being a minor inconvenience – this ordeal wasn’t quite poking the bear inside of me like it normally would. Are they working?
Test two: A first date
Feeling a buzz from the serenity of the tube journey, I decided to step it up a notch and took to Hinge to set up a first date. My ears were actually a little sore the day after putting them on. I wondered if I had maybe been massaging them too much or if I'd had a slight reaction to the tape. Either way, I had experiments to conduct and I'm willing to suffer for ‘science’.
I was actually pretty nervous for the date. I’d changed my outfit twice, sent a ‘still on for today?’ message and spent a while recalculating the route due to the overground being on strike. It was hot, my make-up was melting , I had under-boob sweat, and two of my buses got cancelled meaning I was running 25 minutes late. It was a less than ideal start.
Again, I was actually surprised, given the circumstances, at how calm I felt. I spent the first five minutes rambling and apologising for being late but was put instantly at ease after he said he was late himself. By 9pm my date and I had covered work, ghost stories, and rat infestations. I even got my ears out at the bar, animatedly, selling the idea of ear seeds and promising that I'd be more than happy to bejewel his ears too. Hard to say if the ear seeds are working, or if we were just a good match.
Test three: Fear of heights
It had been five days and I’d noticed a surprising difference. It felt too good to be true. The overthinking crept in: Have you really pushed yourself? Is this article actually going to be any good? If there’s anything that makes me unbearably anxious it's the dentist… and heights. I gulped at the reality of what I got myself in for and prepared to go hard or go home.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford’s Olympic Park is the world's tallest and longest tunnel slide. It has 12 bends including a corkscrew-like twist and measures 178m. It’s high, it’s fast, it’s claustrophobic. Quite honestly, I was shitting it.
I can’t do heights, but I also get outrageously motion sick. The slide loomed over the Olympic Park and I was rubbing my ears so hard I thought I'd make holes in them; each step getting more and more difficult. As I made my way up to the top, a teenager was battling with her parents, refusing to go down, while screaming, “It’s too high!” I feel you girl. But I had ear seeds and a new found strength.
I was given protective pads for both arms and a strange cap that made me look like an egg. As I posed for a photo, I was told to smile and felt a slight quiver in my lip. There was no way I could back out now.
They strapped a GoPro to me (which perfectly captured my face from the POV of my boobs) and told me to lie down flat and hold on to the bag that you slide in. “Erm, are you okay?” The staff member said, looking at my expression. “Let's do it,” I said, and he pushed me down. I felt so ill when I got to the bottom that I had to take a minute, and spent it reviewing my GoPro footage in the gift shop: it resembled an egg with a double chin screaming the words “FUCK” for an entire 45 seconds.
Placebo or not, I think it’s fair to conclude that for me, these little seeds yielded some sort of magic protective veil over me this week. I felt chilled and reaped the benefits of doing things that would normally terrify me. It’s hard to prove these little dots do anything at all, but being able to feel them there gave me a strange sense of comfort, like a child’s blanket or a lucky charm. Either way, the tests certainly proved if I just straight up attacked my anxieties more regularly, I’d probably get a little braver over time. But I’m not sure if these ear seeds will ever make make me feel confident enough to wear the egg cap again.