Mental Health and Wellness

Anxiety and Sensory Deprivation (a.k.a how floating saved me)

Back in February, I experienced my anxiety at its absolute worst it has been since I was first diagnosed, almost ten years ago. I  felt as though I was about to fall apart, and afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pick myself up again.

It was a miserable winter, and my partner and I were living in the construction zone that was our house, amidst renovations. And, having assumed all of the responsibilities (and costs) of being home owners, we were so afraid of using too much oil that we kept the heat down low enough that we couldn’t touch our feet to the floor without wearing socks stuffed into slippers. To top it all off, I was experiencing a lot of work-related stress, which was more than enough to tip the scales in terms of my ability to cope. I was a wreck; I’d wake up crying before work, I’d come home crying, I couldn’t tolerate the company of my friends, and all the time I didn’t spend worrying or being miserable, I spent sleeping (during which time, I would dream about work… there really was no escape).

I am blessed for having a VERY patient partner, but it came to the point where even he was coming to a loss as to what to do. After begging him to pick me up at the library one day, panicking because I saw people from work and I just knew I could NOT put on a stable façade, he finally confided that he “couldn’t keep doing this”–meaning, being on call for my anxiety, and understandably so!  That was when he suggesting paying a visit to The Floatation Centre.

I didn’t know much about sensory-deprivation tanks, but it was something we had talked about trying in the past. It was something that had been popular in the 70s, fell out of style for years, and was making a resurgence at contemporary wellness centres all over the world. Basically, you crawl (naked) into a tank that faintly resembles something out of a sci-fi flick, into 10 inches of skin-temperature water with 800 lbs of epsom salts! With that much salt dissolved in the water, as soon as you lay back, you immediately float to the top! With the door closed and your ears plugged, you find yourself in complete darkness and silence; no touch, taste, sound, sights, or smell. Sound a little scary? I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first, but as someone who struggles with meditation, I wanted to know if an hour and a half in a state where I had no choice but to do nothing and be alone with myself might help me out of my rut.

A floatation tank; photo c/o The Floatation Centre

I knew there were benefits to this unique experience, but at the time, I didn’t realize just how many. Just to name a few, sensory-deprivation floatation can assist in the following ways:

Benefits of Floating

  • Absorbed through the skin, the magnesium content can regulate blood pressure, and help with detoxification
  • Reduces chronic pain and promotes relaxation
  • 1-hour of folatation is roughly equivalent to 4-6 hours of deep sleep
  • Increases creativity and enhances cognitive performance
  • Reduces stress, depression, and anxiety with increased production of dopamine and endorphins, and a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone
  • Enhances your mood, and helps develop and enhance meditation and mindfulness practices
  • Many people report that they sleep very well after a float

My partner and I made an appointment to visit the floatation tanks together, to see how or if it would benefit us. Without quite knowing what to expect, my first float was definitely more of a trial run. I’m not claustrophobic, and I don’t mind being alone with the sound of my own heartbeat, but I did experience muscle tension in my shoulders and neck, and I was hesitant to fully relax because I wasn’t confident I’d hear the music begin to play, signaling the end of the session. When the session was over, however, I found that my muscles actually felt more relaxed than before, and my head was clear. That said, I decided to have another go at it.

The second time I paid a visit to the tanks, I noticed a huge difference. I didn’t experience any muscle pain, and now that I felt more confident I wouldn’t fail to hear the session end, I was able to completely let go. It was just me, my heartbeat, and my breathing; I really must have zoned out, because the hour and a half session just seemed to fly by, and when I climbed out of the tank this time around, it felt like waking up from a dream. The epsom salts has left me skin feeling incredibly soft, I felt refreshed and renewed, and I was able to get go of most of the stress and tension that I’d accumulated that day. Not to mention, I slept WONDERFULLY that night; maybe just a little too long, in fact.

As for my anxiety, it definitely took the edge off my propensity to worry for a few days, and unlike my many failed attempts at meditation, I found that while floating, I was able to slip into a meditative state that my anxiety couldn’t penetrate. In this busy society, we seldom give ourselves permission to do absolutely nothing, and many of us (me included) struggle with not being occupied with something other than simply existing, when it could be exactly what we need to feel our absolute best. Like meditation, floating is in and of itself a practice, and the more you do it, the greater benefits you’ll see. Once a week is ideal, but for now, I’ve enrolled in a monthly membership and visit the tanks once a month. With any luck, maybe I’ll eventually get to a point where I can meditate without the use of the tanks!

Have you tried out sensory-deprivation tanks? How would you describe your experience? Let me know, and be well!




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