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  • Writer's pictureSarah LaTeano

Floatation Therapy: The possible secret behind sustainable anxiety treatment

Generalized Anxiety is a psychological phenomenon that’s essentially written in our genes. From our humble origins, anxiety has served as a protective mechanism that alerted us to potential dangers lurking behind the bush.

Today we often refer to its effects as a vestigial feature, not yet erased by the forward march of evolution. However, anxiety does not affect us all equally. In fact, its occurrence rates can differ greatly by country, region, race, age, and gender. As a result, effective treatment measures can be hard to determine and implement on a wide-scale level.

Anxiety is a feature of the human psyche and not a “bug.” But given prolonged states of anxiety, people can suffer many awful side effects, such as depression and autoimmune malfunction. The modern world subjects us to anxiety at every turn. Think - making rent, getting that promotion, the effects of mistakenly thinking that everyone you know is doing better than you based on constantly watching social media, etc.

The fact remains that an estimated 1 in 5 of the world’s population will suffer from Generalized Anxiety at one time in their lives. This shockingly high incident rate is one factor that’s leading researchers and medical experts to search tirelessly for a long-term, sustainable solution.

Research Being Done to Find a Long-term Cure For Generalized Anxiety

One such study was undertaken by two researchers at Karlstad University, Sweden. Published in 2016, the study was a new iteration in a long line of studies based on the effectiveness of flotation therapy as a remedy for anxiety.

The experiment consisted of a sample of 50 self-diagnosed Generalized Anxiety sufferers, split into a 25 person control group against 25 people subjected to 12 flotation therapy sessions. The sample’s ages ranged from 18 to 65 years old, all suffering from some degree of depression, sleep difficulties, and poor emotion regulation alongside anxiety.

How Does Flotation Therapy work?

The core premise of floatation therapy is sensory deprivation or minimization. It’s believed that anxiety is provoked through over-stimulation of various parts of the brain, leading to cortisol, the anxiety-inducing hormone, to disperse throughout the body. Cortisol not only causes anxious thinking patterns but also raises blood pressure, heart rate and can even cause the functioning of some organs to slow or fluctuate (butterflies in your stomach.)

Most exterior stimulation is removed within the safety of a flotation tank. The subject enters a vessel with approximately 10 inches of water and enough Epsom salt to completely saturate the water (800-1000 lbs!) The water is more dense than the human body, so you are completely supported by the solution. The water and air are heated to the same temperature as the human skin, so after a few minutes you lose track of where the body ends and the water begins, allowing the mind to rest. The knock-on effect of this ‘quieting’ of the mind is that hormonal glands return to their base state, or homeostasis.

The Hopeful Results of The Study

Unlike in some previously published studies on the physiological effects of Floatation therapy, the outcome was tested over the long term (6 months.)

As was to be expected, anxiety symptoms were significantly reduced for the treatment group. At the same time, no change was recorded for the control group. Regarding significant clinical change, 37 % in the treatment group reached complete remission at post-treatment. This finding is critical as it suggests that floatation therapy could potentially be used as a complementary treatment for Generalized Anxiety. More promising still is that there was a notable reduction in other outcome variables (sleep troubles, emotional regulation) asides from depression, of which levels remained the same as before the study.

Additionally, there was no considerable evidence of adverse effects. Meaning that floating was a generally positive experience for the treatment group.

The Bigger Picture

Pairing the results of this study with similar past floatation therapy studies, we can hypothesize that sensory deprivation is advantageous for the treatment of not only psychological conditions but general wellbeing. As of now, there is a need for more studies to be conducted on the topic of floatation and how it affects different demographics and psychological conditions over the long-term. But, for now, the majority of results appear to point in a favorable direction, offering hope to anxiety sufferers worldwide.

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