Floating in sensory deprivation can soothe anxiety
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Floating in sensory deprivation

The Western world is overstimulated. It is nearly impossible to sit alone in silence without any interruptions from people or electronics. With innovative technology, society is constantly connected and wired in. On one hand, it is great to be able to communicate with friends and family across the world, but on the other hand, it can be sensory overload, creating extra stress and anxiety in daily life.

Anxiety disorders and treatments vary

Anxiety disorders range over a broad spectrum of individualized disorders such as social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia and panic disorders. Multiple treatment modalities for this disorder range from pharmacologic agents, such as benzodiazepines, to behavioral therapies.

One popular school of thought for treating anxiety disorder is removing all the unnecessary external stimuli to clear the mind. Multiple approaches — such as meditation, yoga and prayer — have been practiced over centuries to clear the mind and to alleviate unwanted thoughts leading to anxiety.

Flotation pools re-emerge to treat anxiety

A re-emerging treatment to help calm the mind and treat sensory overload is a device called the sensory deprivation pool. These flotation pools initially emerged in the 1950s and disappeared in the 1980s only to resurface recently in 2010. Now with over 300 sensory deprivation tanks around the U.S., this trend is becoming popular once again.

This pool of water is meant for one individual at a time. The person enters a silent room, showers and then enters the saltwater pool, floating face up. All lights and sounds are turned off, disconnecting individuals from the outer world for an hour. Exposed only to their own thoughts and feelings, this experience allows them to reflect and create mental space. “It’s an environment entirely stripped of stimuli. Even gravity feels nonexistent, inside a tank filled with nearly a foot of water and just about 800 pounds of Epsom salt. Like the Dead Sea. You climb inside and lie floating in the darkness,” according to an article in The Atlantic.

The primary researcher, John Lilly, who studied this therapeutic device, used brain imaging studies to compare individuals taking the anti-anxiety medication Ativan to those using the flotation pool. He found that both therapeutic approaches decreased activity in the amygdala, part of the brain responsible for emotional and fear processing. The long-term effects of this flotation practice are not yet studied, and this approach is still in the very early experimental stages.

The ins and outs of sensory deprivation pools

On average, a one-hour session costs $100, and because this experimental practice is not yet recognized by health care professionals or governing bodies, it is not covered by insurance. The benefits of meditation, acupuncture and yoga have been studied over a long time period and, as a result, their long-term effects are well-documented and widely recognized by Western and Eastern medicine professionals alike. The sensory deprivation tank forces individuals to live in the moment, stripping them of every external stimulus and preventing their minds from running away from subconscious thinking.

“To experience complete sensory deprivation is, ideally, to delve into one’s psyche. It forces contemplation of facets of life, that — similar to less ‘heavy’ types of meditation — is meant to leave us healthier and happier. The theory is that removing yourself from all external stimulation allows your mind to suddenly dial down the RPMs, resulting in heightened in-the-moment awareness, creativity, and clarity.”

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Sovereign Health of California is a leading behavioral health treatment provider for those struggling with addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions. Our educated staff members work hard to help provide comprehensive and individualized treatment programs for all of our clients. For more information on our programs or our different California locations, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at Sovereign Health who enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at news@sovhealth.com.

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