Floating for Anxiety
Anxiety is an integral part of human existence and everyone has it to some degree. It can alert you when you encounter a threat and it can help motivate you to act. The problem lies in the fact that our levels of anxiety are surpassing the actual levels of danger that exist and an anxious state is fast-becoming the norm.
Back in the caveman days, your body’s fight-or-flight response kept you alive when you encountered dangers such as a saber-tooth tiger. In the face of a threat, your central nervous system revved up resulting in a faster heart rate, increased blood pressure, shorter breaths and blood pumping into your big muscles, preparing you to stand up and fight your opponent or flee to safety.
We now live in a time where all of our basic needs are basically met and the threats we face tend not to be so much about our actual survival and more a response to busy schedules, high expectations and social pressures. Our central nervous system, however, cannot discern between a real threat and a perceived threat and will spark the same physiological fight-or-flight response whether it’s a tiger running towards you or your boss asking you to speak in front of a group of your peers.
Anxiety is the most common psychiatric condition and in a World Health Organisation report, 7.3% of New Zealand adults had been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which includes generalised anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. That doesn’t include those people who do not seek treatment or meet the full diagnostic criteria. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Kiwis will experience of anxiety of some kind in their lives. This puts us fourth on the list for highest prevalence of anxiety disorders worldwide – these numbers are staggering and make you wonder how we can better nurture our mental health.
What Do We Know?
Treatments for anxiety and anxiety disorders are vast and there really is no one-size-fits-all approach. Options can include talk therapy, self-help strategies, medication, breathing techniques and more.
Clinical neuropsychologist Dr Justin Feinstein from the Laureate Institute on Brain Research is using EEG and MRI technology to measure brain activity of participants before and after they float, with the aim of seeing how floating changes areas of activation in the brain. Early results indicate that floating quiets down the anxiety response in the brain in the same way that prescription medications and meditation do. Preliminary data suggests that the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and the fight-or-flight response, experiences the same “shutting off” post-float as it does with the benzodiazepine lorazepam. This finding is groundbreaking! Although still in its early stages, Dr Feinstein hopes to gather more data in the next few years and is keen to study its long-term effects. He is also preparing to conduct research on the effects of floatation therapy specifically on post-traumatic stress disorder.
Want to learn more? You can watch Dr Feinstein’s presentation from the Float Conference in 2016 below:
So What Now…
Unfortunately, anxiety often culminates in avoidance, which may prevent someone from new opportunities such as floating and we want to make the experience as accessible as possible to those struggling with anxiety. Our float centre and friendly staff will provide you with everything you need for your float session and our FAQ page will hopefully answer any questions you may have. We also offer a special reduced rate during our Community Hours for those suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, making floating regularly more affordable.
Like anything worthwhile, floating has a learning curve and a single float experience will not likely be life-changing. In fact, your first float will take some time to settle into. The more you practice floating, the more familiar you get with the environment, which in turn facilitates deeper relaxation and calm. We are also not promising a quick fix nor are we encouraging people to use floating in lieu of any other treatment option. Instead, we hope to shine the light on the exciting and robust research that is being done and offer you the opportunity to try floating as a way to turn off the brain’s fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system) and turn on the rest-and-digest response (parasympathetic nervous system). Everyone deserves a break from anxiety and we hope floating can offer you this reprieve.
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