Can float therapy help depression?
There’s no doubt about it, we’re living in difficult times for many. Sars-Cov-2 (the novel coronavirus) and the measures to restrict it have blown up industries, led to increases in unemployment and uncertainty, plus led to huge increases in loneliness, stress, and anxiety.
A recent study conducted by esteemed academic institutions the University of Nottingham, and King’s College London showed in their sample group that 57% of people reported symptoms of anxiety, with 64% noting common signs of depression.
While float therapy isn’t a silver bullet to fix all of the world’s problems, it certainly can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, with real physiological changes that impact mood.
Here we look into why and how floatation therapy can be a fantastic tool to reduce feelings of depression.
What is floating?
If you’ve never been in a floatation tank, it can be hard to understand how floatation therapy could possibly have so many benefits.
At Float Hub, we offer the most advanced environment available to experience floating or sensory deprivation therapy.
Each sensory deprivation tank we have – 6 in total – is one of the only type in the UK to guarantee 100% filtration for every session, with sophisticated lighting which can even mimic sunset and sunrise to ease you into your session.
In simple terms, people come to us for 60-minute sessions (longer sessions are available for our members), in which they do nothing at all but float in our warm, silky smooth solution of water and ~550-575kg of Epsom salt (rich in magnesium sulfate).
Everything about the environment is designed to reduce sensory stimulation, in which modern life often heightens way beyond healthy levels.
The solution is kept very precisely just above skin temperature, feeling neutral to the human body, so your nervous system doesn’t need to respond to heat or cold.
Your body is supported perfectly by the specifically maintained density of the solution, often likened to a feeling of zero gravity or weightlessness.
Our rooms are built to be soundproof, plus with added insulation from the pod itself, and the earplugs we provide, you will experience a rare quiet.
Though you can control the lighting, floating is typically done in total darkness.
If you’re still unsure what to expect, check out our guide to your first float.
The effects of this Flotation rest(restricted environmental stimulation therapy), are many, but all a result of freeing your body and mind up from external stressors, pressures, and worries for your time in the pod.
It’s a precision-engineered environment to let you switch off from the world.
How can float therapy help depression?
It’s been suggested that around 90% of your brain’s normal functions, such as responding to gravity or threats, can cease.
This creates a massive surplus of energy and resources, which your body naturally puts to good use to begin it’s own natural healing processes – much like when you’re in a really deep sleep.
As floating has been around for 6 decades, there has been a significant amount of research conducted on it’s benefits.
Float therapy has consistently shown to be effective in improving sleep quality, reducing stress and anxiety, and letting the body get back to a healthy balance of hormones – which can be significant in feelings of anxiety or depression.
The relationship between biology, emotions and mental illness is complex with new understandings still being sought, but the effect of hormones like cortisol, dopamine, and endorphins are widely understood to be profound on human emotion.
Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone, as it is usually triggered by stress as part of a combination of signals from both hormones and nerves.
Sensory isolation allows for deep relaxation by removing almost all external stimulus.
According to healthline.com, when you are under stress, such signals ’cause your adrenal glands to release hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. The results are an increase in heart rate and energy as part of the fight-or-flight response.’
Whilst there are healthy levels of stress, too much might lead to a variety of symptoms including mood swings manifested as depression, anxiety, or irritability.
Due to being proven to reduce stress hormone cortisol, floatation-REST can be an effective treatment of one of the common causes of depression.
Regular practice of using float tanks or float pods seems to also lead to long term healthy balancing of cortisol levels.
Endorphins are commonly thought of as ‘feel-good’ hormones and floating has also been shown to increase secretion of endorphins and beta-endorphins.
They are naturally produced by your nervous system to help you cope with pain, muscle pain, or stress (which are both recognized causes of depression).
Exercise can also produce endorphins as a reward for getting your body moving, though if it is not easy or possible to get into an exercise regime, you can still boost your endorphins effortlessly by floating in one of our float pods.
One point to note on comparing the effects of floating to exercise, is that exercise can increase adrenaline, whereas floating decreases it – meaning in this respect different goals can be targeted and achieved (and a float is amazing after heavy exercise!).
Dopamine is another organic chemical that can impact mood. It functions as a neurotransmitter, playing an important role in pleasure and motivation, amongst other things. It’s sometimes called the ‘happy hormone’.
In a 2017 study, ‘dopamine system dysregulation’ was shown to play a part ‘in major depressive disorders’. Indeed, hangovers are often categorized with feeling low, in large part to a reduction in dopamine after the effects of alcohol artificially increasing it.
Whilst there ideally would be more specific research, it is widely reported that floating increases dopamine- production, assumed as a by-product of lower cortisol levels.
This increase, combined with that of endorphins secretion, and decrease of cortisol and adrenaline, has the potential to have a positive effect on depression, anxiety, and PTSD. They also provide powerful natural pain relief and ease chronic stress.
Float therapy has also been a powerful tool to boost cognition, aid problem-solving by letting people achieve Theta State, and generally helps people think more clearly.
Evidence for this is largely anecdotal, but to us, it makes sense that being able to unravel troubling problems more easily or put things in perspective, might also help an individual return to feel they understand their emotions and can keep them in check.
Blood pressure, muscle tension, and physical pain are usually reduced. There are several militaries that use float therapy as a treatment for PTSD and chronic pain from old injuries.
Magnesium absorption isn’t definitively proven (studies have offered mixed results), but it’s possible that float therapy also allows for a re-balancing of magnesium levels – which is essential for a healthy body.
The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly slowed our growth, though the impact of floating on depression is a major topic we hope to contribute to the research of in the coming years.
From seeing the results our members get on a weekly or monthly basis, we’ve been told of amazing results for improving many things ranging from arthritis (due to improved blood flow & reduction in inflammation) to PTSD to stress or even to achieve a deeper meditation practice.
We don’t link to any here, as there isn’t yet relevant long-term research, but the balance of each of the hormones above is vital to long-term health, with imbalances shown to lead to increased risk of various chronic diseases.
Could a regular floating practice be a more powerful tool for long-term health than anybody is talking about?
We think it’s exciting to speculate and think these are extra reasons to get your float on, on a regular basis.
This isn’t intended to be medical advice, and we’d always recommend speaking to a relevant professional if you suspect you might have a serious mental health problem.