For those of you not familiar, a floatation tank, is a soundproof and light free tank that is often used as medical therapy for individuals who need to get away from the stress of everyday life and for those who have General Anxiety Disease (GAD) or other neurological dysfunction.
Medically termed as Floatation-REST, the floatation tank is filled with salt water and heated at skin temperature (35 degrees Celsius). The salt content comes from Epsom salts which is magnesium sulphate. The high concentration of this salt allows individuals to float making it seem like you are in a anti-gravity environment.
This floating therapy helps to you to get away from life’s pressures in a natural way that allows for your mind and body to heal. This deep relaxation state helps to relieve pain, increases blood circulation throughout the body and causes endorphins to be released in the brain. This causes the brain to generate Alpha (as in meditation) and Theta waves as in NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep which brings about a calm state and sense of well-being.
A number of scientific studies have demonstrated that using Floatation-REST (Restricted Environment Stimulated Technique) is beneficial in relieving stress, anxiety, sleep problems and depression. However, GAD has been the least successfully treated form of anxiety. There has been some success but clearly the protocols need improvement such that floatation therapy can be used on a regular basis with patients who have GAD with great success.
Early in 2016, a group of researchers conducted a trial of GAD individuals with deep relaxation therapy (Floatation-REST).
The individuals they recruited were self-diagnosed and believed to have GAD. These individuals were asked about their gender, age and other background information and they had to fill out self-assessment tests.
Some people were eliminated if they didn’t meet the needs of the experimental protocol. The test candidates also needed to divulge any medications they were taking (along with dosage) and/or if they were receiving any psychotherapy and to what extent.
Some of the trial candidates were on medication and/or psychotherapy. For those of you interested in self-assessment questionnaires, they are listed below with a simple explanation of what they do.
Self-Assessment Tests Included:
- Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ) – this questionnaire is commonly used to assess pathological worry (excessive worry about everyday concerns). This is apparently a reliable test and has the ability to distinguish GAD individuals from other psychiatric issue. Individuals answer the questions on their own (subjective).
- Generalised anxiety disorder questionnaire 4th ed. (GAD-Q-IV) – this test was initially developed to screen GAD patients from others and the severity of the disorder and in this experiment it was used in conjunction with the PSWQ (worry) questionnaire for further specificity and sensitivity. This test works well for weeding out people who are non-clinical types meaning they are normal. The questions are oriented around feelings of anxiety.
- Montgomery-Asberg depression rating scale (MADRS-S) – this is a questionnaire that asks 9 questions that the patient answers in regards to their depressive symptoms. This test is believed to show good reliability and corresponds well with doctor’s ratings. It tells you how depressed the person is.
- Pittsburgh sleep quality index (PSQI) –This questionnaire consists of 19 individual self-report measures of how well they have been sleeping and assesses clinical patients as well as normal individuals with acceptable reliability. Basically, it tells you whether the person is a good or bad sleeper.
- Dysfunctional emotional regulation scale (DERS) – this questionnaire asks 36 questions to asses how well a person is able to control their emotional responses. This test is also believed to demonstrate good validity and reliability.
- Mindful attention awareness scale (MAAS) – this questionnaire has 15 questions that the individuals needs to answer on mindfulness. Mindfulness means how aware is the individual to ongoing experiences and paying attention to them. Generally when you are aware of your behaviour, you’ll try to correct it at some point.
Some patients and non-clinical types do not observe themselves and so they don’t correct behaviours. This test lets the researchers know who is aware and who isn’t.
- Experienced deviation from normal state scale (EDN) – this questionnaire has 29 questions the individual has to answer about how much they are relaxed while in Floatation-REST and how much that differs from normal state. Suppose say, a person had an EDN score of 30 on his/her first floatation and then a score of 40 on the next floatation, then this is interpreted as a positive therapy response.
The floatation tanks, also known as an isolation tank, were filled with water that was saturated with magnesium sulphate (Epsom salt) and the water was maintained at 35° Celsius. All tanks are insulated to keep out light and sound and are located in rooms that are quiet. Test individuals had to shower before and after a floating session. Inside the tank, there is an alarm button in case anyone needed help. In this trial, no one used the alarm button.
This was a non-blinded, randomised, parallel group trial with 1:1 allocation of individuals. There were 25 people who underwent 12 floating therapies and 25 people who were on the waiting list (no treatment, control group). To be included in this trial, you had to be between the ages of 18 to 65 and have GAD as determined by self-testing measures (the above questionnaires).
The primary outcome researchers looked for was GAD-symptomatology while the secondary outcomes were sleep difficulties, depression, mindfulness and emotion regulation issues.
Assessment of these outcomes were made at 3 times points which include baseline (just before therapy began), 4 weeks into therapy, post-therapy and a fourth time point 6 months after therapy was terminated. Data was analysed and reported.
Without reporting all the details, let it suffice to say that GAD-symptomatology was reduced significantly for the treatment group but not for the waiting list group (they didn’t participate in floatation therapy).
In fact, 37 percent of the individuals in the treatment group actually experienced full remission at post-therapy. The therapy group also had significant beneficial effects for depression, emotional regulation and sleep issues. However, those that had therapy had ambiguous or non-existent effects on pathological worry and mindfulness.
Factors such as low levels of mindfulness and pathological worry play an important role in maintaining GAD and unfortunately no real results were achieved here in that they were non-existent or ambiguous. These researchers suggest that this therapy mainly affects physiological factors in GAD-symptomatology. This includes muscle tensions, fatigue and poor sleep whereas mindfulness and worry are orientated around mental processes and awareness.
If you consider everything together, it would appear that further therapy would be needed to reach full remission of GAD by floating therapy for most GAD people. Nevertheless, all improved outcomes remained 6 months after therapy except for depression. Nice to know that there were no negative side effects from this therapy.
The current findings suggest that Floatation-REST has very good potential as a complementary anxiety reducing therapy along with current therapies for GAD.