According to the World Health Organization, anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders, with millions of people around the globe affected by this debilitating condition.
Anxiety can be triggered at any point in our lives. The source can, at times, be obvious if we are suddenly faced with an unexpected event, such as losing a job or the sudden death of a loved one.
On other occasions, anxiety can appear seemingly at random, as some buried childhood event comes to the forefront of our minds.
It’s a complex issue, and many are looking for holistic solutions as opposed to the different types of medications that doctors may prescribe. Recently, the subject of sensory deprivation came under the spotlight, but can it help?
What is Sensory Deprivation?
A deprivation chamber helps to shut the user off from the outside world. Contrary to some beliefs, it is unnecessary to close off the patient by shutting a lid on top of them. Some anxiety sufferers are also affected by claustrophobia, so this would be less than ideal.
An open tank uses around 10 inches of water, along with enough Epsom salts to aid flotation. The user lies on their back and closes their eyes, allowing themselves to float naturally in the water.
Justin Feinstein, a clinical neuropsychologist, feels that the term sensory deprivation may be misleading. Rather than close down all senses, he claimed in an interview that it boosts some sensations, including breath and heartbeat.
Feinstein and others prefer the term float therapy to describe this type of treatment.
One User's Experience
In November 2023, Charles Trepany wrote about his sensory deprivation experiences for USA Today. He met with Justin Feinstein, gathering information before taking the plunge himself.
As he moved through the session, Trepany reported that, at one point, his mental chatter stopped, and his anxiety and nerves fell away. The session, timed at two hours, felt like 30 minutes, and the reporter left feeling totally calm.
Back in 2018, writer Ashley Ladera reported similar experiences. During the therapy, she felt “like a mermaid.” At the end of the session, she left feeling excited and convinced about the power of flotation.
How it Works With Anxiety
While not every user of float therapy will achieve the same results, the technique is intended to promote specific health benefits that can tackle anxiety. The method can trigger what Justin Feinstein describes as a “reflexive relaxation response,” which lowers blood pressure and reduces tension in the back and neck.
Those two areas of our bodies, the back and neck, are where we are most likely to hold onto stress. A lower blood pressure will have many health benefits, while additional upsides relate to controlled breathing and heartbeat.
I know from experience that anxiety sufferers will head online in search of immediate relief. One of the regular suggestions is to be aware of your breathing and to use it to relax. In turn, the heartbeat and blood pressure should become more regular.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety in the past, I would definitely give a deprivation chamber a try. The results experienced by Ashley Laderer and Charles Trepany are certainly encouraging.
I have tried flotation therapy but wasn’t suffering from anxiety at the time. I can, therefore, only report that it was an incredibly relaxing experience.
The issue could be accessibility. Meditation is widely recommended as an antidote to the condition, and this helped me at a time when I was struggling. It's much easier for anxiety sufferers to find a comfortable spot in their own homes and switch on a meditation app or find a YouTube option.
In contrast, a session in a deprivation chamber requires planning and booking an appointment. It’s not spontaneous, but the experiences outlined here suggest that there could be definite value in sensory deprivation, and sufferers should certainly consider this as ammunition in their war on anxiety.
Source: USA Today.