Most of us have experienced high levels of stress before: when we’re upset about something that’s happened or is happening, or worried about something that might happen, the body goes into a “fight-or-flight” mode, which human beings have experienced ever since our long-ago ancestors had to flee from predators or fight for our survival.
When you’re in a frequent or even permanent state of fight-or-flight, you’re not just unhappy: you’re living with anxiety. You’re at an increased risk of various serious, even fatal conditions such as heart disease, chronic pain, etc. Relaxation is a skill, and floating can help you master it!
So what does anxiety do to my body?
We face stresses at work, in relationships, or in our heads very regularly. We can get stressed worrying about things that might happen: all of those “what-ifs” that can keep us up at night. Often, the predator that’s causing our fight-or-flight reflex isn’t a real one, but a perceived one; the deadly lion faced by your ancient ancestor now manifests in overwork, burnout or fear of future possibilities.
Let’s get technical for a moment: fight-or-flight changes the way that your physiology is working, pumping adrenalin and cortisol through your body, and making your breathing shallow.
If you’re living in a state of near-constant stress, you don’t get to relax back to your baseline, and you’re in a permanent heightened state of anxiety. The effects can be terrible: they call stress the “silent” killer, leading to a variety of bad health outcomes including heart problems, chronic pain and much more.
You may even find that you’ve forgotten what being relaxed – the “baseline” – looks like, and you simply haven’t got the capability to bring yourself there. Relaxation is a skill, and it really benefits from practice.
If you’re experiencing high levels of stress, it’s best to speak to your GP who can recommend a counsellor, psychologist, etc. to you: they may diagnose you with an anxiety disorder.
This is more common than you might think: over 2 million Australians experience the symptoms of anxiety disorder per year, so you’re not alone!
The art of stillness
The professional you speak to will probably suggest various relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises. Frankly, these will probably feel very strange to you at first, and hard to get the hang of, but as you persist, they get easier and more effective.
They’re also proven by science, so even though the word meditation might conjure up mental images about 60s flower-power or monks on Himalayan mountains (although that certainly sounds fun as well), but it’s just as valuable to a CEO in a suit: and according to Harvard, it’s pretty popular with them too.
Going into a floatation tank might sound even more awkward than half an hour of silent meditation at home, and you might think that time alone with your thoughts is just going to make you even more anxious as you mull over the same worries for half an hour straight.
The good news is, what you’ll actually experience in the tank is quite the opposite – in an environment without external stimulation or distractions, your brain simply switches off the fight-or-flight reflex, you let go of your worries, and the outside world starts to feel less relevant as you’re peacefully at home with your brain.
And you’re a lot less likely to give up meditating after three minutes if you’re in an environment free of obstacles: unlike home, where you might be distracted by the lure of your mobile phone, teenagers yelling at each other or toddlers wreaking havoc, you’ve finally got a dedicated space that is free of emotional meaning, and of distractions, both of the entertaining and frustrating variety.
But you don’t have to take our word for it: the relaxing effects of floating have been studied in scientific journals, and even covered extensively by Time Magazine.
Whether you’re just starting to find your way on the journey from anxiety back to relaxation and joy, or you’ve made relaxation techniques part of your life and you want to try something new that’s been proven highly effective, floating is a great way to bring peace and stillness into your life.
Floating can be life-saving, but it’s also life-changing: many people whose lives were once consumed by stress, anxiety and fear have found their lives turned around, and can look proudly back at what they’ve achieved in becoming stronger, more resilient and better equipped to handle the bumps on the road of life. As well as being increasingly used as an anxiety treatment, floating is often used for post-traumatic stress disorder to help people overcome their traumatic experiences and discover a “new normal”.
In a society that often glorifies burn-out and looks down on self-care, taking time out to keep your heart and mind healthy – literally and figuratively! – is an act of bravery that will help you rebalance and restore, and reflect on what matters to you most.
Nobody should have to live with the effects of anxiety. It’s often impossible to avoid stress entirely, and we often find ourselves in life circumstances that are indeed stressful, but there are things that we can do to help control these difficult emotions instead of letting them control us.
Floating can be a key tool that you use to bring yourself back into the moment, and back into a life of joy.
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