According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately seven million people struggle with some form of generalized anxiety, with those numbers spiking significantly during the pandemic.
Michael Malkin, creator of Calm Strips, which he and his business partner, Luce Fuller, showcased on season 13, episode 13 of ABC’s Shark Tank, says he is among that seven million. “I have suffered from anxiety most of my life and this product is something that was borne out of personal need,” says Malkin.
Malkin used to manage the Apple Store in MacArthur Center in Norfolk and found that when things got particularly busy, his anxiety would escalate. To reduce his anxiety levels, he would wrap blue carpenter’s tape around his finger and fiddle with it during high-stress moments. “I was surprised at how helpful it was,” says Malkin. Of course, customers would naturally wonder why he was sporting carpenter’s tape on his finger, not to mention the sticky residue left over when the tape was removed. It was during those moments Malkin thought maybe there could be an alternative, something not quite as clunky or noisy as fidget spinners or cubes. The resulting brainchild was the invention of Calm Strips, textured sensory adhesives that provide a tactile release for those suffering from anxiety or who find themselves in overwhelmingly high stress situations.
Calm Strips comes in two textures, Soft Sand grain or extra-bumpy River Rocks. The adhesives stick to most surfaces, such as phones, computers and water bottles, and can provide an immediate outlet for managing unsettling energy bursts and stress, and/or increasing focus.
Although the physical location of the Calm Strips company is across from Strayer University in Newport News City Center, most who encounter the company do so through social media, says Malkin.
With more than 150,000 customers worldwide, Malkin went into this business endeavor thinking it might be a side hustle, never imagining the burgeoning success it has become. It was after being in business for approximately six months that Shark Tank reached out to him. “It was kind of like out of the blue,” says Malkin, “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Naturally, the exposure helped get the word out about the product, but “at the end of the day,” says Malkin, “there has to be something there.”
And that something has ended up striking a chord in people and organizations Malkin had never even considered, one of the biggest of which is the education system. “Teachers are looking for sensory tools students can use that will help with fidgety behavior,” says Malkin. Also, the adhesives are helping with “body-focused behaviors like picking and hair pulling — they kind of take attention off of those destructive behaviors,” Malkin adds.
In his continued work on the Calm Strips product, Malkin is working closely with neuropsychologists who explain some of the science behind why such products work. While these adhesives are certainly not a replacement for therapy or medication, emphasizes Malkin, they are a tool that “can be helpful to people involved in more comprehensive mental health programs.”
As summer rounds the corner, Malkin is looking at new ways to make his products accessible by creating wearable options such as necklaces people can always have on their person. Custom Calm Strips containing company logos or special design requests are also offered.
“When I first started Calm Strips,” says Malkin, “my wife said don’t worry about trying to be a big business — if you help one person, it’s a victory. So, when I get an email that says I saw you on Shark Tank, gave it a try and it really helped, it’s an opportunity to encourage people to get whatever additional help they may need.”
The invention of Calm Strips has helped Malkin and many others find tactile sensory relief for some of those overwhelming life stressors. But Malkin also has other ways to relieve stress — hanging out with family, going to Busch Gardens two weekends out of the month, playing video games with his sons on their PlayStation and spending time at Great Wolf Lodge.
Finding ways to relieve stress and calm anxiety is essential, and as Mark Twain so poetically advised: “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heel, or any other way you can manage it.”
TO THE POINT:
Address: 700 Mobjack Pl., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Michael Malkin, owner/president