More “Mindfulness” & Reduced Stress
The 2014 Journal of Complimentary & Behavioral Medicine study mentioned above, which tested the effects of sensory deprivation on markers of quality of life in 65 adult patients as part of a cooperative-health project, found a significant correlation between “altered states of consciousness during the relaxation in the flotation tank” and “mindfulness in daily life.”
Scientists randomized study participants to either a wait-list control group or a flotation tank treatment group. The sensory deprivation tank group participated in a seven-week flotation program, consisting of a total of 12 float sessions. After being tested for measures of psychological and physiological well-being — including variables like stress, energy, depression, anxiety, optimism, pain, sleep quality and mindfulness — results showed significant reductions in:
Scientists also observed improvements in general optimism, sleep quality and “mindful presence” (or awareness) during the study.
Reduced Anxiety & Depression
In 2016, researchers from the Department of Psychology at Karlstad University in Sweden tested the effects of sensory deprivation tank floating on symptoms of anxiety disorders, including general anxiety disorder (or GAD), which remains one of the most challenging mental health problems to treat. Study findings showed that GAD-symptomatology significantly changed for the better for the 12-session float group over a four-month period. (6)
In fact, 37 percent of participants in the float-treatment group reached full remission from GAD symptoms at post-treatment, while the majority experienced at least some significant beneficial effects related to sleep difficulties, problems with emotional regulation and depression. All improved outcome variables at post-treatment, except for certain symptoms of depression, remained at the 6-month followup point after the study. No negative effects surfaced in the floaters.
Improved Energy & Work Productivity
Stress-related illnesses now top the most common reasons for reduced productivity at work, employees using sick days, lost sleep and employee fatigue. (7) Problems attributed to stress include mental fatigue (also called “brain fog“), lack of concentration, burnout syndrome, migraines or tension headaches and digestive or gastric complaints.
Facing these daunting stats, more employers are offering complimentary floating sessions, or similar approaches like breaks for meditation, in order to keep stress levels low. While stress-reduction is a common doctor’s recommendation for patients who are already dealing with these problems, it seems to be most helpful when stress is prevented or managed before it reaches damaging levels. Sensory deprivation floating is now considered a cost-effective, natural and helpful stress-preventative method for decreasing potential sick-leave absences and increasing general well-being in the workplace. (8)
Several studies, as well as patient testimonials, suggest float tanks could serve as natural painkillers. The primary way that floating helps ease pain is through evoking a relaxation response, which eases tense muscles and helps improve rest and recovery. One study examining the effects of placebo treatments versus flotation tank therapy found that floating sessions reduced stress-related muscular pain in patients diagnosed with “burnout depression.”
The patients treated with this flotation-restricted environmental stimulation technique for 6 to 12 weeks exhibited less pain, lower blood pressure levels, less anxiety and depression, reduced feelings of stress and negative and increased happiness/optimism, energy and positive affectivity. (9)
Help Overcoming Addictions
A study from the 90s aimed at identifying the effectiveness of sensory deprivation on reducing addiction found that “REST is a versatile, cost-effective treatment modality with demonstrated effectiveness in modifying some addictive behaviors, and has promising applications with others.” (10)
Interestingly patients addicted to nicotine, alcohol or drugs generally saw improvements associated with refocusing the mind or rebalancing the various physical and mental effects of stress.
According to science, sensory deprivation helps patients overcome addictions by:
Induction of a general relaxation response
Serenity and relief by non-chemical means
Internal refocusing to concentrate on personal problems
Disruption of habits through removal of trigger cues and response possibilities
Increased feelings of control over addictive behaviors
Enhanced learning processes
Research findings related to treating addictive behaviors with REST now support its use for:
The most support for floating involves smoking cessation help, while many believe more research is needed overall to recommend floating for other drug problems.