I recently found a 2018 research report on float therapy. “Examining the short-term anxiolytic and antidepressant effect of Floatation-REST” sent me to look up the word “anxiolytic.” An anxiolytic is a treatment that relieves anxiety. It is, of course, the exact opposite of an anxiogenic agent, which is something that increases anxiety.
Anxiolytic Beats Anxiogenic
Which of the two forces — anxiogenic or anxiolytic — looms larger in the public consciousness? My quick and dirty assessment (i.e., doing a Google search on each term) suggests more people are searching for anxiolytics (3,610,000 hits) than anxiogenics (419,000 hits). That makes sense. Nobody likes anxiety.
The research report I cited above was a study to determine how well float therapy relieves anxiety. The researchers recruited 50 participants with a wide variety of anxiety disorders: posttraumatic stress, generalized anxiety, panic, agoraphobia, and social anxiety. The participants scored themselves on the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory both before and after a session of flotation REST (reduced environmental stimulation therapy). The researchers found that no matter what kind of anxiety a participant had, floating gave them substantial relief from it. “Moreover, participants reported significant reductions in stress, muscle tension, pain, depression and negative affect, accompanied by a significant improvement in mood characterized by increases in serenity, relaxation, happiness and overall well-being.”
Quieting the Amygdala
When the researchers compared these results to 30 non-anxious people who were scored the same way, they found the anxious people benefited more than the non-anxious. My reading of these results is that anyone can benefit from floating, but people suffering from anxiety can REALLY benefit.
If you want the technical explanation for how floating relieves anxiety, it has to do with the amygdala. The amygdala is an almond-shaped nerve cluster deep in the middle of the brain. You have two — one on each side. The amygdala has many functions, but one of its primary duties is to cause your “fight-or-flight” response. That response is the main ingredient in stress. Recent research shows that sensory deprivation, such as you enjoy in a floating session, reduces the activity of the amygdala. And a study at the Float Clinic and Research Center at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma found that the reduced activity of the amygdala persists after the float session is over. That means once you’ve floated, life continues to be less stressful even after you’ve showered away the epsom salts. For a lot of people, reduced stress means reduced anxiety.
The Cost of Anxiety
Anxiety, in addition to being uncomfortable, can have long-term deleterious effects. It can stress your cardiovascular, digestive, immune, respiratory, and nerve systems. If you have a chronic disorder, such as high blood pressure, COPD, or IBS, anxiety generally makes it worse.
We all have anxiety at some time or other. For many of us, the anxiety grows into anxiety disorder (e.g., PTSD, agoraphobia, panic, social anxiety). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.” I think that probably qualifies it as a major public health problem.
If you have access to float therapy, such as we provide here at Peak Recovery & Health Center, you probably don’t have to be part of that public health problem. Just one session could reduce your anxiety. Regular sessions are likely to give you real control over it. Book a session today.