Whether you are just merely considering float therapy, are new to the practice, or have been enjoying sessions for many years, it is always good to examine why the sensory deprivation sessions work and what benefits it has for the body.
Float therapy takes place in a sensory deprivation tank. The tank blocks all light or sound from entering the space in order to block the senses. It is filled with 12” of a saltwater solution heated to about 95 degrees or the external temperature of the body. During the session, the participant floats freely within the solution in a completely effortless manner. The process rids them of stress, pain, and anxiety. The sensory deprivation combined with the free-floating weightless sensation allows the mind to enter a relaxed or meditative state because the body feels completely safe and secure. Sessions relieve many of the stressed brought on by normal day-to-day life, acting as a reset button for the brain.
The Epsom salts in the water keep the body floating without any effort, thus bringing a slew of physical and psychological effects. The purpose of this article is to focus on those psychological effects of float therapy.
How Stress Affects Your Overall Health
Stress is your body’s reaction to a particular situation, whether it is good or bad. The body releases chemicals into the bloodstream triggering a biological response to the situation. These chemicals do things like boost energy levels and strength, and they are your bodies natural defenses enabling you to cope with the situation at hand.
There are four main types of stress.
- Survival Stress: the good old “fight or flight” response animals have developed to deal with danger. Your body’s stress response will be either to run away or fight “the enemy.”
- Internal Stress: this is the self-inflicted kind of stress, the worrying for worrying’s sake type. It is often categorized as worrying about things you cannot control or are unlikely ever to come to pass.
- Environmental Stress: these stressors are found in your environment and can be something as simple as a loud, grating noise or as complex as a boss constantly looking over your shoulder.
- Fatigue and Overwork: this type of stress is slow-building, accumulating over months, but it can be the most damaging to your system because of the long-term and chronic nature of the stimulus.
There has been plenty of studies conducted on the tolls stress can take on the body, and the evidence is pretty plain. Stress is bad, it is bad for your physical health, and it is bad for your mental health. People under even moderate amounts of stress have trouble concentrating and are easily tired. Those under tremendous amounts of stress get sick more often, lose the ability to think clearly, and can even suffer from mental breakdowns.
Your brain is constantly working. It processes the near constant amount of stimuli going on around and within the body. It orients you to time and the space around you, but when you add in stressors, your brain has to work overtime. Many people today face unprecedented levels of stress on a near constant basis, and with all of that extra stimuli, it is easy to see how the brain can become overwhelmed. Once that happens, it enters a state of agitation or anxiety which is further exacerbated by the body dumping hormones into the system.
The psychological symptoms associated with stress vary by the level and length of time the brain and body are in overdrive. Acute stress generally sparks fear and/or anxiety in a person, while a more chronic stressful situation will lead to moodiness and irritability. Once a person reaches the adrenal fatigue stage, they may fall into a depression.
Stressful situations lead to worrying about stress which then causes the body to release more hormones. Those hormones lead to an increase in anxiety which ultimately leads to more stress. It becomes a vicious cycle which is why learning proper relaxation techniques are so important. This is where float therapy comes in.
Floating and the Brain
When you float, you are halfway submerged in the sensory deprivation chamber. It is dark, quiet, and warm. The act of floating is effortless because of the buoyancy of the magnesium sulfate solution, your body feels completely weightless, almost like being inside the womb.
There are no external stimuli for the brain to process, not even the need for your brain to keep your body oriented in time and place. Instead what happens, is that your brain gets its much-needed break for processing information. It is able to enter a state of deep relaxation.
A session in the chamber is a meditative state. You are essentially allowing your brain to calm itself by removing all stimuli which in turn soothes your body and decreases the flow of stress hormones into the bloodstream. Some people find that they are so relaxed they fall into a very peaceful sleep.
Float therapy helps your body enter into a state of homeostasis. The various body systems have a chance to reboot for optimal function. Think about it like restarting a computer!
Floating and Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that are released at the tip of your nerve fibers due to electrical impulses sent by the brain. They diffuse across the synapses and transfer from one nerve fiber to the next. In other words, they are the chemical messengers from the brain that give the body instructions.
You are probably familiar with several neurotransmitters, even if you didn’t know what they were technically called. Most people have heard of serotonin, it is often called the happiness chemical, but in fact, it is actually responsible for many functions in the body including regulating the appetite and memory. Also, dopamine and epinephrine are commonly known neurotransmitters responsible for a number of functions.
Another benefit of float therapy is the addition of “good” neurotransmitters. Once the body reaches the relaxed state within the tank, the brain is able to quiet itself from the hyper-stressed state. It then begins to release endorphins and dopamine.
Endorphins interact with your brain’s pain receptors, easing the feeling of pain within the body. They also trigger a very positive feeling within the body, some have even compared the effect to a morphine high. Runners are known to have a euphoric feeling after a run which is attributed to endorphins.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and the pleasure centers of the brain. Dopamine helps regulate your emotional responses but is generally associated with feeling good. It is one of the key ingredients in the neurotransmitter cocktail that makes up the feeling of love.
The increase of dopamine and endorphins in the body attained after a sensory deprivation session provides the participant with a sense of wellbeing. It has also been shown to have other benefits as well. After just a few sessions, participants have shown improvement in memory function, and their performance levels have increased.
Combating Anxiety with Float Therapy
Anxiety is actually a general term. It encompasses a wide array of disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. Anxiety disorders can be brought on by many factors, many physiological, but it can also be caused by stress, especially internal stress.
Float therapy can be used to help combat stress in the system, no matter the form or cause. Participants with PTSD, depression, OCD, and/or panic attacks have all seen improvements in their conditions with floating.
Don’t Let Float Therapy be one of the Causes of your Stress
It is common for people interested in trying float therapy for the first time to have some misgivings about the process and all it entails. They may be concerned about being enclosed in the sensory deprivation tank, especially if they have claustrophobia. They may be concerned that their anxiety levels won’t allow them to relax and gain from the experience. If they have PTSD, they may be concerned that the tank will send them into flashbacks or nightmares.
However, research has shown that the potential for easing the disorders far outweighs the initial anxiety, and most people find they have no problem being in the tank even with a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
The International Journal of Stress Management published a study recently about the benefits of float therapy. The study found that in a group of 70 people, the symptoms related to anxiety, stress, depression, and even chronic pain lessened significantly after taking a course of 12 sessions. Plus, for some participants, the effects lasted for four months after the final float session.
In the not too distant past, float therapy was seen as just a hippie fad. Sensory deprivation was relegated to the realms of pseudoscience and wasn’t to be taken seriously. However, that is no longer the case. As more and more studies show proven benefits, and more people are coming to understand the process, it is becoming so much more than just another homeopathic remedy in the eyes of the health community.
From helping people deal with chronic stress and its devastating effects on the body to helping PTSD patients manage their symptoms so well they are able to go off of medication, float therapy has proven itself as a beneficial tool for mental health professionals to keep in their arsenal. It is another proven way to help mend the mind and the body without the use of side-effect riddled medications.
Flot: San Diego’s Float Spa is Here When You Need Us!
Research is ongoing in the field of sensory deprivation, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait to start your float therapy journey. Begin benefitting from the effects of floating today, your body and your mind will appreciate your efforts.
Flot is the highest-rated and best-priced float spa in San Diego, and it has two locations to better serve you (Downtown and North Park.) Please make sure to ask about our discounts for military service members, students, and senior citizens. Membership packages are available for purchase, and the floating sessions come in one, one and a half, and two-hour intervals.
We have taken all the stress out of the process by providing isolation chambers built by Float Lab Technologies, an innovator in the world of sensory deprivation tanks. Our tanks meet all safety and sanitation standards for commercial use, and we use an Epsom salt that is above the USP rating. Before your session, your magnesium sulfate solution will be purified by both Ozone oxidation and UV radiation, that way you can float worry-free knowing that you are safe from bacteria, viruses, molds, and fungi. Plus, because of our patented filtration system, we never use harsh chemicals in our tanks or salt-solutions which means you don’t need to worry about sensitive skin being damaged.
Some of our first timers worry about floating or falling asleep in the tank. Rest assured, you have nothing to worry about in either regard. Even if you do not float in the swimming pool, the lake, or the ocean, you will still float in the sensory deprivation tank. The Epsom salt solution is so buoyant that no matter your height or weight you will 100% guaranteed float in the tank. For those worried about falling asleep, it is fine if you do. In fact, many of our participants drift off into a sweet and peaceful sleep, just like a baby. If you somehow managed to flip over in your sleep, the Epsom salt in the water wouldn’t feel very pleasant in the mucous membranes in your nose or in your eyes, and it would wake you up before you found yourself in danger of drowning.
Float therapy is not a guaranteed cure for your stress or anxiety disorder, nor is it a cure for any other health condition you may be suffering from, but there are proven benefits to undergoing sessions in the tank. Just be sure that you do not stop any medications without your doctor’s consent, even if you find yourself feeling entirely stress or anxiety free after your sessions.