Floating brings deep relaxation and stress relief

Relaxation is essential to our physical and mental health. When you relax, you can enjoy life.

Our evolutionary inheritance

Stress.  Anxiety.  Fear.

Sometimes these are useful and appropriate states.  They involve powerful physiological reactions which allowed our ancestors to survive and reproduce.  When they were threatened by a predator, or had to fight for food or a mate, the stress reaction enabled them to perform the physical feats necessary to escape or to win.

When there was a lot of rapid change going on in our ancestor’s environment, it was usually a survival situation, such as being pursued by a predator, during a hunt, or during a fight.

Rejection from the tribe used to mean death.  Losing the support of the group to find resources, to provide protection from predators, or to stand by your side in a fight was a real threat to your survival.

Thankfully, for most of us these days such survival threats don’t arise very often.

The thing is, we have inherited these states.  We have the same physiology.  What were evolutionary benefits are now rarely necessary or useful, and can have a negative impact on our quality of life.

Many of us have hooked the stress reaction into situations where it is not appropriate, situations which are common in our modern life.  The consequence is we live in an ongoing state of emergency.

We are stuck in a cycle.

Floatation can bring deep relaxation, and profound relief from stress.  Your muscles release tensions, anxiety dissolves, your mind can switch off, and calm is yours to embrace.

The sabre-tooth tiger

Stress causes the brain to release hormones like cortisol and adrenalin, as if a sabre-tooth tiger is coming to eat us.  This increases muscular tension, especially around the neck and shoulders, lifting the rib cage and leading to breathing with the upper chest.

In the days of our ancestors, this could give the extra oxygen boost needed to escape the tiger.  When the tiger was gone and the threat had passed, the shoulders would drop, the breathing would return to the abdomen and diaphragm, the hormone levels would return to normal, and the stress would fade away.

The problem for us today is that there is no tiger, so it can’t go away.  The stress cycle is perpetual.

Instead of a tiger, it’s getting the kids off to school on time, making sure that the work is done by the deadline, getting stuck in traffic, and so many other parts of every day life.

None of these are any threat to our survival, but we have learned to respond to them physiologically as if they are.

The body responds to interpersonal conflict and rejection as if it is a survival threat.  As if an argument with our partner or boss is a physical fight.  As if the lack of response to a social media post means impending death…  and even though people might ‘like’ this one, what if they don’t ‘like’ the next?

Life can feel hectic and sometimes overwhelming, full of demands upon our time and attention.  There’s a rapidly changing stream of sensory input from TV advertising, smart phones, status updates, email, texts, phone calls – you name it.  This all keeps us in a state of high alert, so that even in a lull we are keyed-up and anticipating the next ping.

Long story short: the tiger does not go away.

Relaxing

The risks of stress

So the muscles remain tense, the shoulders stay up, telling the brain that we are in a survival emergency, and so the brain keeps the cortisol and adrenalin flowing.

Heart rate is elevated, blood pressure rises, blood flow is diverted away from the digestive system and to the trunk muscles, breathing becomes more rapid, muscles become tense, body temperature rises, oxygen consumption increases.  This is the sympathetic nervous response, more commonly known as the fight-or-flight response.

When we are stressed we often act impulsively, our physiological state preventing us from making the best choices.  Stress is associated with greater risk of depression, anxiety, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and infectious diseases.  It can exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

But perhaps just as importantly, it simply isn’t much fun feeling stressed.

We need to chill out.

 

 

Therapeutic

Floating the stress away

The good news is we can break the stress cycle.

Floatation is the ultimate in relaxation.  You float effortlessly in warm salty water, a bit like the Dead sea.  It gives a feeling of weightlessness.  The distractions of sound and light are minimised.  Your muscles relax, and your mind can finally switch off. This is a place you can truly rest, a time which is yours alone.

The floatation environment activates the parasympathetic response – a physiological reaction of deep relaxation.  The parasympathetic response is as striking as that of flight-or-fight, but with the opposite effects.  Muscle tensions dissolve.  The heart rate and breathing slow.  Levels of cortisol and adrenalin drop off.  Circulation improves throughout the body.  Blood pressure decreases.  Stress melts away.

The effect has been shown to persist for days after floating.

Even more significantly, regular floating has cumulative benefits.

By floating regularly you can re-train your body, and raise the threshold for activation of the stress response.  A study by Turner and Fine at the Medical College of Ohio concluded that floating “could alter the set points in the endocrine homoeostatic mechanism so that the individual would be experiencing a lower adrenal activation state.”

This means that you are able to remain relaxed in situations which previously triggered stress.  In this way, the feelings of bliss and well-being can carry on beyond the float and into your life.

The tiger can go away after all.

Find out about the pioneering research investigating floatation as a treatment for anxiety, which taking place at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, and what is driving Dr. Justin Feinstein, who is leading the project.

 

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