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Sensory Deprivation: How Float Tanks Can Ease Anxiety

21 June 2019, by i-sopod

We all experience some degree of stress in our lives. We worry about paying bills, about global warming, or being stuck in traffic. Some of us have other anxieties to deal with, such as shyness or, perhaps, a fear of heights, or worries about our health. It’s normal, and probably essential to our development, to feel some level of stress. A certain amount of pressure can be a positive thing because it motivates us to get things done or to take care of something, or someone, important to us. But stress and anxiety can all too often become overwhelming, and this can cause both physical and psychological problems.

The World Health Organisation has called stress the “health epidemic of the 21st Century” and, according to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2017/18, in Great Britain, 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression. This is 57.3% of the 26.8 million workdays lost to ill health during this period. The average number of working days lost per person to stress, anxiety and depression was 25.8, with 595,000 workers reporting that they suffer from stress-related conditions. This has increased from 526,000 in 2016/17. Plainly, stress is a problem for many of us.

The natural response of our bodies to tension and pressure is to release adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. As cortisol is naturally released as a defence mechanism in times of perceived threat or worry, it should ideally only be released for short periods of time but, in the busy lives we lead in the modern world, the body produces it more often. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and, when we are enduring prolonged stress and tension, the increased level of this hormone can lead to various health problems. These problems are manifold, ranging from stomach pain and changes in appetite, dizziness, trouble sleeping and muscle tension, to difficulty in concentrating, becoming unreasonably irritable, and experiencing feelings of impending doom or disaster. Eventually, nervous anxiety over a prolonged period of time may lead to more serious health concerns, such as high blood-pressure, stomach ulcers, depression and heart disease.

So, what can we do to alleviate our anxieties before they take too much of a toll on our state of mind and our physical health? There are various ways that we can try to ease the amount of stress we feel under. Talking to someone about how we feel is the most important way, relieving the weight of carrying our worries alone, but there are other things we can do to lessen the concern we are experiencing, in order for us to be able to cope and feel more in control of our emotional and physical well-being. Taking more exercise or finding a new hobby can help us feel less stressed but, when we are overwhelmed by woes and worry, it is difficult to find the motivation to be more active or to begin something new, which we may fear will add to the burden of stress that we are already carrying.

Although sometimes necessary, many of us are reluctant to take drugs to ease our anxiety issues, unless as a last resort. Floatation therapy is an effective, medication-free, therapy for stress. In the float pod we truly are in a tranquil environment, free from the countless pressures and distractions of our everyday lives. We are floating, weightless, in a calm, quiet atmosphere, where even the strain on our muscles is alleviated and eased by the supportive, clement water. We would be hard pushed to find another such restful sanctuary in today’s busy world, where we can find this degree of refuge and simply switch off. The lives we lead can make it difficult to relax fully, but in the float pod, without the outside stimulus of noise and work or hurrying to be somewhere, it is possible to reach a deep state of relaxation. Sensory deprivation in the float pod allows our body to focus on recalibrating itself without outside interference. The lack of light and sound, and the ability to step away from what it is we find stressful may be a natural way to ease tensions and strains that can lead to more serious physical and mental health issues.

Stress depletes our magnesium levels but, because the water in a float pod is so magnesium-rich, we absorb it through our skin. Magnesium is a natural stress reliever, and one that too many of us are deficient in. It is essential for muscle control and the elimination of toxins and the regulation of more than 325 enzymes. It also helps us to produce serotonin, which is essential in many ways, such as helping with sleep and digestion, but also improving our body’s ability to heal and maintain bone density, and it is believed to enhance and balance our mood, assisting the relief of depression and angst.

Floating also causes our blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow around the body, the result of which is that our heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood. This reduces blood pressure, reducing stress in our body and relieving our mind.

The water itself is temperature-controlled, removing the need for the body to regulate and maintain its own temperature. Simply lying in the buoyant water of the pod takes the pressure off our muscles, which are fully supported in the salt-filled water, removing any strain on them, reducing both pain and blood pressure. The temperature of the water further relieves muscle tension by making it easier to relax, to feel at one with the water, easing the physical and mental load we bear. Some people describe the experience as being like a return to the womb, afloat in a quiet place of safety and calm, protected from the hubbub of the world outside.

Our brain is usually kept busy just keeping us upright and maintaining blood pressure, as well as constantly interpreting all the sound, information and activity we are exposed every day but, in the pod, our brain has much less work to do, allowing us to simply be at one with our thoughts. When floating for the first time, it can take about forty minutes to reach the deeply relaxed state, known as the theta state, which is the completely peaceful state of deep mental and physical relaxation we usually experience just before we fall asleep, and upon waking, and isn’t usually experienced at any other time. However, the more often we float, and the more used to being in the pod we become, the more likely we are to be able to unwind and reach the theta state earlier, making the experience more calming and beneficial over time.

The advantageous effects of a float session can last for days or weeks, but it is recommended that, to achieve the optimal benefit of floatation therapy, we should do it fairly regularly. Reducing our cortisol levels and increasing our serotonin levels, lowering our blood pressure, as well as easing the tension in our muscles and bones, does increase our feeling of well-being, helps us to feel relaxed, and may perhaps help us to feel we are more able to cope. And all without medication. It stands to reason that we would want to repeat the experience and continue to feel the positive effects of floatation therapy.