As you probably know if you have tried it, the experience of floating in a sensory deprivation tank can be deeply relaxing.
So, why does floating relax you? What’s the science behind this? The relaxation effect that occurs after floating is far from rare. In fact, relaxation is one of the core reasons why people seek out floating as a top defense against burnout, stress, anxiety, and depression. Science is revealing the reason why floating induces relaxation.
What is Flotation Therapy?
Floatation-REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) is a mind-body intervention used to naturally reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression that leave the mind and body feeling heavy.
While there are many mindfulness practices that can be practiced anywhere, many people find that the sensory deprivation involved with floating allows them to experience life-changing results.
The Therapeutic Benefits of Floating
Recent studies have uncovered just how drastic the positive benefits of floating can be for people struggling with anxiety or mood issues.
One 2018 study examined the short-term anxiolytic and antidepressant effect of Floatation-REST in 50 anxious and depressed individuals. The participants presented with a range of different stress-related and anxiety disorders (including generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder).
The study found that just one single-hour session of float therapy was capable of inducing a strong reduction in state anxiety and a substantial improvement in mood in study participants.
In addition to experiencing immediate decreases in self-reported levels of stress, pain, muscle tension, depression, and negative affect, study participants also reported strong mood reversals. Significant increases in feelings of relaxation, serenity, happiness, positive affect, energy levels, and over-well-being were reported. What’s more, participants also reported that they felt “refreshed.”
The Science Behind the Calming Effect
So, what is behind the effects produced above? Let’s take a look at the science behind why floating relaxes you.
Reduces Sensory Overload:
Sensory overload occurs when you are getting more information more quickly than what your brain and nervous system can process. Things like flashing lights, loud noises, and multiple conversations all going on at once contribute to sensory overload. This occurs often because of how much information we receive in today’s fast-paced world.
Researchers believe that floating induces relaxation by slowing down sensory input to the nervous system. According to information shared by the University of Washington School of Medicine, floating may reduce stress, depression, and anxiety by reducing how much sensory input the nervous system and brain receive. In fact, it’s the “rest” given to the nervous system during floatation that is thought to be responsible for the relaxation-inducing effects of the experience. This essentially helps reduce sensory overload.
In normal conditions, the sympathetic nervous system is “charged up” to be ready to respond to the slightest form of stimuli. However, floating triggers a takeover by the parasympathetic nervous instead. When we are operating with our parasympathetic nervous system activated instead of the sympathetic nervous system, we enter a physical state that allows for the healing and replenishment needed to relax the body at deep, restorative levels.
While in this state, a person is likely to experience decreased blood pressure (arterial pressure), suppression of cortisol/stress hormones, reduced muscle tension, and a concentrated rush of endorphins. All of these effects contribute to a greater feeling of calm and relaxation.