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Ways to Relieve Stress and Chronic Pain: The Benefits of Float Therapy

18 November 2020, by i-sopod

What does being stressed feel like? We’re all familiar with the low moods, the irritability, and the low to high level anxiety which percolates in the background. When we’re stressed, we’re likely to reach for short term fixes through unhealthy habits, or seek distraction to numb how we’re feeling.

And what does being stressed do to the body, on the inside? The answer to this one is less evident on the surface, however people are beginning to observe and understand the implications that stress can have on their bodies. Apart from affecting our emotional state and our behaviour, stress also manifests physically, and can trigger various illnesses. Some of the most commonly occurring conditions related to stress are anxiety, depression and burnout on a mental level, and affecting the body, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Understanding the symptoms of stress in the body can help in recognising the signs in your own body, to tailor your self care routine according to how and where stress flares up for you. In this article, we’re going to explore the impact stress can have on the body, whilst looking into some chronic stress conditions which are currently on the rise. We’ll then take a closer look at how floatation can directly help to relieve the stress and the pain. We’ll be looking at one important recent scientific study which investigates exactly this, and breaking down the results.

What Causes Stress?

Our lifestyles can be very demanding, and the societal focus on high achievement and productivity can be taxing on our wellbeing. Our nervous systems are impacted by the constant bombardment of stimulation and information via our devices, the media and our environment. What’s more, as we live through a global pandemic, most people are dealing with higher stress levels than normal, and there has been a notable increase in anxiety levels for many.

Regardless of what causes stress, the body reacts in the same way. The central nervous system (CNS) is instrumental in how we deal with stress from the outside world, and how it is internalised in the body. It is the control system responsible for responding to stressful triggers and sending signals out to the rest of the body to help regulate bodily functions. The more stressful triggers we face, the more depleted the nervous system can become.

Fight Or Flight: How Stress Affects The Body

When we’re in a state of high stress, the body enters what is known as ‘fight or flight’, a survival mode which is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). In fight-or-flight our heart rate speeds up, metabolism slows down, and adrenaline is released. This is our internal way of preparing for a potential threat, as the body can’t tell the difference between external stress triggers; the physiological response is the same, whether we’re stressed about a deadline for work or being chased by a bear in the woods.

In order for our body to shift out of survival mode, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) then steps in, which is responsible for lowering blood pressure, encouraging healthy metabolism and eliminating waste from the body; and thus the body slips into what’s known as ‘rest-and-digest’ mode.

If the stress in our lives is continuous and we don’t have an adequate way of managing it, stress affects the body long term: cortisol is continually released by the body to combat this – like an alarm that doesn’t go off – and therefore the hypothalamus goes into overdrive to keep up and produces an abnormal amount of the hormone. This then puts us at risk of depression and other stress related conditions.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) is a long term condition which causes chronic fatigue and muscular pain all over the body. The condition also causes difficulty sleeping, and affects mental processes causing problems with memory and concentration. Other symptoms include IBS and headaches.

FMS is difficult to diagnose, and although what causes it is not yet fully understood, the main trigger is thought to be long term stress or a particularly stressful incident (whether emotional or physical) which has had a big impact on the individual.
There is also a link between the rise in chronic pain conditions and the increasingly sedentary work routines we have. Spending a lot of time at desks, in front of screens and not getting enough physical movement can lead to muscle tension and to chronic pain developing in the body.

While anyone can develop the condition, FMS affects women about 7 times more than men, and typically develops between the ages of 30 and 50. Research suggests nearly 1 in 20 people may have the condition, meaning it’s very likely that we all know someone who is affected by FMS, whether diagnosed or not.

Dealing with Burnout?

Burnout is a combination of mental and physical exhaustion caused by chronically high stress levels. WHO has redefined burnout as a syndrome linked to high levels of stress in the workplace. It’s a relatively new diagnosis, the symptoms of which many people can relate to these days.

The three main elements of burnout according to WHO are feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from one’s job, and poorer performance at work. If you’re dealing with burnout at work, the best way to ease the stress is to make some healthy lifestyle changes to recalibrate your work-life balance.

Floatation for Chronic Stress: A Study

Sven-Ake Bood, PhD, carried out a research study in 2006 at Karlstad University which looked at the long term effects of floatation therapy for people diagnosed with stress related conditions. The 70 patients were 56 women and 16 men, all of which dealt with chronic pain, and 26 of which had also been diagnosed with burnout. The participants were treated with 12 float sessions, and Bood then analysed the immediate results as well as long term effects of the therapy (4 months after the treatment).

‘Through relaxing in float tanks, people with long term fibromyalgia or depression and anxiety felt substantially better after only 12 treatments.’ Sven-Ake Bood

The results indicated that physical pain was reduced by 48% after the floatation treatment and the patients’ quality of sleep improved by 23%. Feelings of stress were reduced by 31.4%, anxiety by 27.4%, and depression by 24.1%. Amazingly, all of these results remained at the same level when the patients were analysed in the follow up 4 months after the floatation REST therapy.

Overall, the participants were shown to experience floatation therapy as an effective and non-invasive treatment for fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions, and for alleviating the symptoms of burnout. 75% of the patients found noticeable improvements in their condition. What is interesting here is that the main benefits and improvements continued to be present in the body 4 months after the treatment, which proves that floatation can have lasting health benefits.

Does Floatation Work?

After relaxation, stress is the second most common reason people give as to why they try floatation [floatworks market research]. The two reasons are of course interlinked: if we weren’t stressed out, we wouldn’t be seeking out ways to relax as much as we do…

There are a myriad of interconnected elements to floatation REST therapy which are conducive to alleviating the symptoms of stress. One of the principal factors is sensory deprivation: having all your senses shut off from external stimuli is proven to move the brain into producing theta brainwaves, which are associated with a deeper state of relaxation than sleep. Then, the zero gravity experience of the pod allows the body to be completely weightless, which can be of great benefit to anyone dealing with chronic pain. The high level of magnesium released by the Epsom salts is another important component in how floatation therapy helps with stress.

To read into the details of how floatation works on the body, head to our blog where we delve into all of these elements of floatation.