How My Floatation Tank Experience Affected My Mental Health
If, like me, your first introduction to sensory deprivation tanks was on The Simpsons, then you are in good company. That episode aired, a decade went by, and just when I began to believe these tanks were the stuff of TV lore, I saw one advertised in my city. I went ahead and booked myself in.
I’m not generally claustrophobic, but it turns out that in some situations I am! I did not like being in an enclosed tank; I was too hot, and felt my anxiety rising. I left early. It wasn’t as bad as Homer’s bumpy ride down the side of a cliff, but still… no, thank you.
I decided this experiment wasn’t for me and didn’t think much more on it. Another decade went by until a local floatation company contacted me due to my mental health Instagram. They asked if I’d like to come in and try out their service, on them. I like free as much as the next person, but I hesitated because of my prior experience.
I researched what they were all about and when I saw that the enclosed tube was now something like an open hot tub, this changed my mind. I went for it, and this time it all went much better!
Then, because I’m me, about a year went by and I didn’t make another appointment. That is until I had an unrelated minor mishap that resulted in a bruised tailbone. If you are not part of the tailbone club, count yourself as lucky — it resulted in several weeks off work as well as additional months of pain and irritation. Luckily it was not broken, but it didn’t do my backside or my mind any favors.
I was a bit puzzled about what to do with my body at this time, as it was pretty upset and hands-on treatment didn’t seem like a good option. It was at this point I remembered my floating, and went ahead and booked myself in. While it did help with taking the pain away for the duration of my float, what I really ended up noticing was the stuff that was happening with my brain.
I experience complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), depression and anxiety. Due to this, I’m always on the hunt for ideas or treatments that can help me. I’ve continued to go for these floats occasionally and have started to recognize a variety of mental health benefits. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
1. It puts a helpful spotlight on tension.
What I’ve discovered is that, in this space, I am better able to recognize tension I hold in my body, which is probably related to my disorders. I’ve been somewhat amused to notice that I think I’m relaxed and then to find another spot in my body that is still a bit tense. I’ve also been intrigued to find that without consciously checking in on this, the tension creeps back in. These are good life lessons for me, in and out of the water.
2. A real opportunity to unplug.
Another mental health benefit that I’ve noticed is that I’m able to resist my technology. In my regular life, even in my downtime, I’m pretty well constantly on my phone creating something. (She explains while writing this piece on her phone while also watching Netflix). I do this because I love it, and for the most part it gives me energy, not takes it. Yet, when am I truly giving my mind a rest? I do put on music or podcasts in my float, but I don’t count that as the same thing. While I technically could play on my phone in the water, I am able to fight against this much better here than in real life.
3. It’s fun!
Turns out I find floating to be a pretty neat experience. If you recall the old adage about “all work and no play…” then you can probably remember that us humans tend to need fun to stay FUNctional (pun intended). At least I do. Sometimes due to depression or trauma-related symptoms, it’s hard to find things that are fun that also don’t use a lot of energy. This fits the bill. One bonus feature I find enjoyable is the colored lights and massage chairs that are available at this particular location. It’s the little things, you know?
4. No-touch treatment.
There are times where I’m really not up for a lot of touch or when I find medical professionals to be way too triggering. This floating option is a good alternative for such situations. It’s also a little bit like a hug, but you know… from water. This could also be a great option for folks who deal with sensory input problems.
5. It just helps.
All of this combined seems to lower my anxiety and improve my mood. I’m also pretty sure it’s a great way to calm my nervous system when it’s been overactivated. I’m not saying it’s a cure or that floating alone can solve all my problems, but it certainly isn’t going to make them worse. It helps me to be more present to my mind and body, gives me the chance to calm my system down and it makes me smile.
If this all sounds promising to you, I have a few tips when searching out a facility that suits you.
- Unless you love closed spaces, search for businesses with open-top floating spaces.
- Look for trauma-informed and mental health-aware language and policies. This can usually be easily spotted on websites.
- Check into what extras are available that will make your experience all the better. Stuff like fun lights, fancy massage chairs, a great speaker system, an airy layout or whatever you may enjoy.
It’s been over 20 years since Lisa got into that float tank. If I recall correctly, she tried it because she was having stomachaches due to stress; life imitates art, I guess. I haven’t gone on any psychedelic journeys like in The Simpsons, but I have found my own benefits. And, I’m so glad I have, as it’s always a good thing to find another option for my mental health toolbox.
Have you ever tried floating? What did you think of it? Share a story about how it helped or even worsened your mental health. Did you know a lot of businesses have moved away from closed-style tanks? Other thoughts or ideas to share? Please comment below!
If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.
Image via contributor