A study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine explores sensory deprivation in a flotation tank as a form of preventative healthcare. Its results showed substantial reductions in levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and along with improved sleep quality and overall mood, proving that flotation therapy is an excellent way to prevent and treat many emotional and physical ailments.
Sensory deprivation cuts off all the senses from the mind, removing it from the average barrage of stressful situations that most of us face each day. In the absence of distracting external stimuli, the mind enters a state of deep relaxation and meditation. The research shows how this state can actually be medicinal, as it has tremendous potential to reduce stress and thus the damaging symptoms that come with it.
Chronic stress expresses itself through things like depression, insomnia, and anxiety. Flotation therapy can directly relieve this, but how?
The relaxation response method (RR) is essentially the exact opposite of the fight-or-flight response. It is the physiological process that relieves stress, occurring during states of deep relaxation. RR is able to combat stress so efficiently because of its calming effects on the parasympathetic nervous system, the portion of the nervous system responsible for many physiological changes within the body including energy conservation and deep relaxation. It is through this process that RR lowers heart rate and blood pressure and slows down breathing.
The authors of the study noted that to successfully ignite the RR response while the body is under stress it is crucial to reduce all sensory input and movement by the body — which makes floatation therapy the perfect solution. The research described the mechanisms of this method: “During flotation-REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique) an individual lay in a horizontal floating posture immersed in highly concentrated salt water (magnesium sulphate) in a flotation tank. All incoming stimuli are reduced to a minimum during this period (usually 45 minutes), i.e. sound and light, and the water is heated to skin temperature. ”
Sixty-five participants — 14 men and 51 women — took part in the study. The participants were divided into a flotation-REST group, which consisted of 37 people, and a wait-list control group, with 28 people. The flotation group received 12 45-minute sessions over the course of seven weeks. Subjects were assessed for depression, anxiety, stress, sleep quality, energy, pain, and optimism before and after the study. These same measurements were assessed for the control group.
The flotation group displayed radically improved scores in comparison to the control group, with participants exhibiting reduced anxiety, depression, pain, and stress.
Here’s Some Data
The average score for stress before flotation treatment was 1.86; afterwards, it dropped to a remarkable 0.95. The control group scored 1.84 before and 1.89 after treatment, meaning their stress actually increased during this period.
The score for anxiety for the flotation group was 7.92 before treatment and 4.28 afterwards. On the other hand, the control group scored 7.03 before and 6.96 afterwards.