As a concierge at a Float Spa, I can say nearly every individual who leaves after their first float is amazed at how low their stress level has gotten. Many of the goals individuals seek with Sensory Deprivation Float Therapy, which I will colloquially refer to as “Floating”, take many sessions and a regular practice to achieve. So why does stress relief come so easily and so ubiquitously? I had the anecdotal evidence, so I took it upon myself to dive into the nitty gritty science of it all to prove (and be able to explain) exactly what’s happening in the body that makes Floating such an effective stress reliever.

Enter the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This is the part of the autonomic nervous system that prepares the body for life threatening danger, like being attacked or being in a car crash. When this system is activated, often referred to as “the fight or flight response”, the body takes energy it would be using for other automatic functions like digestion and immune system regulation in order to increase adrenal activity and cardiovascular functions that will aid in the body responding to an immediate threat. Cortisol, aka “the stress hormone”, is released in droves to help us react to the threat at hand. In the modern day world, stressors are everywhere, and unfortunately even the ones that seem small to us often are interpreted by our nervous system as potential life threats, thus activating this system when it doesn’t need to be active. 

It is becoming increasingly understood in the medical community that SNS overactivity is a direct contributor to many health issues. The simplest explanation for this is that when SNS is activated, our immune systems, digestion, and kidney functions are drastically impaired, while cardiovascular activity is heightened for extended periods of time beyond what is necessary or helpful. According to the National Institute of Health, among many other esteemed researchers, the detriments of this overactivity can lead to heart attack, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes, end stage renal disease, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, oedema (fluid retention in the kidneys that causes bodily inflammation), high cholesterol, and insulin resistance.

Generally speaking, after an event that rightfully triggers our SNS, such as an animal attack, the way our body calms down and restores regular functionality is by engaging with what’s called the “Parasympathetic Nervous System” (PNS). When this system is activated, cortisol production ceases, and cardiovascular activity is lowered to normal levels, while the other functions that were inhibited by the SNS are restored to their normal state. While this is supposed to happen automatically after the threat of danger is gone, in our everyday modern lives, oftentimes the events our nervous system perceives as threats never fully go away. Therefore, the dread of an impending deadline, major relationship issues, legal trouble, financial insecurity, and other fears that plague us often keep our SNS activated so that PNS can’t step in to settle things down. Many are living with their nervous systems in constant distress, leading to a domino effect of other health issues that seemingly never ends.

So the question is, how can we hack the system, so to speak? The answer, as research has consistently shown, is a lot simpler than we may think- we have to simply give ourselves time for true, deep rest. 

In studies conducted by the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, the most consistent prevailing result was participants who Floated feeling a sense of serenity that lasted up to several days after the float. This was true for even participants with the highest levels of chronic anxiety. Additionally, across the board, most participants saw a notable drop in blood pressure. The participants in the control group were simply sat in a comfortable, reclined chair, and shown a calming nature documentary, and results were far less substantial. 

With this said, we can hypothesize that Floating is a unique kind of rest that has the potential to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, therefor deactivating the SNS overactivity that is to blame for so much of the chronic stress and health issues that we face at an epidemic rate today in modern society.

Understanding that Floating is a real, scientifically backed method of stress relief is important going into your own Float experience, especially if you’re opening or expanding your business to include Float tanks. A good Float center will be able to talk to you about this kind of thing when questions arise. I encourage all Float center owners, managers, marketers and the like to do more of their own research so they are prepared to answer questions guests may have regarding the science behind why Floating works. 

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