Healthista’s Anna Baron tried flotation therapy to see if claims that it helps anxiety were founded – here’s what happened
I’ve had anxiety for a while. I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment that it happened or when I realised it was happening. But I do remember being in a car a couple of months ago and feeling like I couldn’t breathe then bursting into tears because I was terrified we were going to get into an accident. I get anxious over trivial and important things such as listening to people eat, not being able to finish important conversations and anything involving school or work.
Could floatation help anxiety?
‘Anxiety is a rhythm that constantly outpaces the beat of life itself, and importantly it’s a rhythm that can be slowed down by floating,’ explains Dr. Justin Feinstein, director of the Float Clinic and Research Center, at the FloatConference in Portland in 2013. He goes on to describe anxiety as putting yourself into a future moment in the present, so much so that you become negatively consumed in that moment.
Anxiety is a rhythm that constantly outpaces the beat of life itself, and importantly it’s a rhythm that can be slowed down by floating
Dr. Feinstein claims that anxiety is the most common psychological condition affecting over 40,000,000 people in the US alone. Anxiety is two times more common than depression and is more prevalent in woman than men.
How floating works
A floatation tank is a small covered tank that can usually be described as a curved pod, however, there are open floating tanks that do not have a roof to the pod. The water inside of the tank is an Epsom salt solution heated to 35.4 degrees Celcius, the temperature of the body. Floating is the only option that your body has as the salt solutions density is at 1.25 which makes it impossible to sink while in the tank. Your body is completely held up by the water returning you to a state of innate tranquility.
How floating can help
John Lennon kicked his heroin habit by floating in the dark for half an hour every day
The apparent benefits of floating are vast. According to Floatworks, a floatation company based in the UK, ‘the deep relaxation state achieved allows the body to recover from stress. Pain is relieved. Blood flow is stimulated through all the tissues, natural endorphins are released, the brain gives out alpha waves associated with relaxation and meditation.’ Not only does floating relax you, it relieves all pressure on and in your body all while making you hyper-aware of your body at the same time. A similar therapy was used by John Lennon to kick his heroin habit, according to biography The Lives of John Lennon. Reportedly, he used to float in a cedar wood box filled with warm saline solution in the dark for up to half an hour, and he felt the healthiest he had ever felt in the weeks before his murder.
What happened when I tried it
Walking into the Floatworks at St. Georges Wharf in Vauxhall I started to become anxious. I was not necessarily nervous of floating but I had a million and a half things I should have been doing which would not be getting done while I was essentially floating in a large tub.
Upon arrival, you are greeted with a glass of water and asked to read a sheet on how to ‘be’ in the tank. The sheet outlines how to get in, how to put the earplugs in and the recommended positions to float in. Most people float with their hands either above their head or by their sides while lying in the supine position (on your back).
When I was taken back to the tank I was shocked with how large the floatation tank was. I was sure that it was going to be quite claustrophobic as if I was sitting in the womb again, but this was a huge tank. Before getting into the tank you are instructed to put in waterproof ear plugs (that they provide), put vaseline on any cuts or scrapes you have (so the salt water doesn’t burn) and wet yourself down in the shower.
Word to the wise, do not touch your face or try to sit up while in the tank. The water in the tank is saltwater and when it gets in your eyes it burns. Badly. Floatworks had a small spray bottle with normal water in case you get some salt water in your eyes which was very helpful when I got curious and tried to sit up causing salt water to run into my eyes.
The first ten minutes in the tank are filled with music. You have the option to keep the lights on or to turn them off. I turned them off surrendering myself to a type of darkness I hadn’t experienced. The way the music traveled through the water reminded me of being in Hawaii and hearing whale calls underwater while snorkeling.
I cracked my back at one point during my restlessness and it sounded as though a giant had jumped down on a pile of bubble wrap
The first 15 or so minutes I was consumed with the idea of relaxing. So much so that I was not relaxed at all. I was bouncing around in the tank trying to get my bearings while focusing on how much I need to relax. I cracked my back at one point during my restlessness, it sounded as though a giant had jumped down on a pile of bubble wrap. It was so loud it was almost shocking. After a while, I stopped moving and began to focus on my breathing while doing visualizing exercises to calm down, employing tactics I learned from meditating.
I started meditating around five months ago after I had my moment in the car. My anxiety was getting to the point where it was affecting things that I should be able to do, such as ride calmly in a car, play a game or even do work. At first, I was using the Headspace app, an app designed to teach you to meditate. But, after a while, I just began to turn on classical music and focus on breath and visualizing exercises instead of doing a guided meditation. However, I still use some of the techniques that are in the Headspace app.
For me, the moment when I truly began to lose track of time was when I was doing meditational visualizations while floating. Whenever I feel like I am losing control of a meditation and I need to refocus on something I visualize myself as a coloured ball in space bouncing around slowly without any gravity. The ball is coloured based on how I am feeling that day growing and shrinking with my breath. Red seems to correlate with high anxiety days while white or blue is when I am extremely relaxed.
While I was in the tank I felt as if I was living that visualization. If I unconsciously moved even a centimeter in the tank it felt as though I was zooming through space because I truly did feel weightless. The feeling was intrinsically therapeutic to the point where I was meditating just by floating. I didn’t feel the need to do visualizations or to count my breaths.
While I was in the tank I felt as if I was living that visualization. If I unconsciously moved even a centimeter in the tank it felt as though I was zooming through space
Sound was one of the biggest differences while in the floatation tank. I do not like being in completel silence because it gives my brain the opportunity to go crazy but the silence in the tank was so quiet it was almost loud.
While in the tank my eyelids sounded like the shutter lens on a gigantic camera, scratching my hair was like listening to static on a radio at full volume and a rumble in my stomach was as loud as a distant clamor of thunder. I knew that sound was going to be heightened while in the tank but I wasn’t aware to what extent until I was in there. It was on the brink of becoming unnerving being able to hear my heartbeat while just laying there.
But before I knew it, the music started playing again signaling that there were five minutes left of the session and it was time to reacclimate myself to light and sound. The whole one-hour session felt more like 20 minutes at most. I was euphoric as I was stepping out. I felt a tranquility that I hadn’t felt in months.
Having anxiety makes things hard. I don’t sleep as well, eat as well, relax as well and even work as well as I know I could. There are days, and nights, where I replay conversations in my head over and over trying to decide if I said the right thing, when I may not have said something wrong at all. I wake up multiple times a night and I cannot fall asleep without listening to white noise so that my mind doesn’t run rampant. But, the night after the floatation tank I fell asleep within 30 minutes of laying down. I didn’t need to listen to a TV show for white noise and I only woke up once that night.
the night after the floatation tank I fell asleep within 30 minutes of laying down.
While I was in the floatation tank I felt a calmness that I hadn’t felt in months. It wasn’t even that I was calm, I was truly not thinking. I had a whole hour of rest where my brain was completely shut off.
Everyone has their own ways of coping with anxiety. Some take medication, some run, some go to therapy amongst a myriad of other treatments. I have found that meditation is what helps me the most. Being in the floatation tank was like one major, huge, gigantic meditation session. It was as if I had just hibernated for six months. There was an indescribable amount of weight off my chest after the session.
While I was in the floatation tank I felt a calmness that I hadn’t felt in months
While I realise that I only went once so I cannot say that it would definitely help everyone with anxiety, it did help me. Since my session, I have kept up with my meditations and have seen a difference in my anxiety levels. Yes, I am still anxious a lot of the time and I don’t think that will go away without a lot of serious soul searching but I will definitely be going back for a float soon.
Floatworks single float for £50 for a one-hour session 0207 357 0111