When I mentioned to a friend that my baseline neurosis has evolved from daily stress into anxiety, her response was – "Go for a float!"
Yes — spend an hour in a dark, soundproof room floating in a body-temperature warm pool. "The heavy salt concentration does the work for you," my friend told me. "You just lie there and meditate."
As a doctor wary of overprescribing medications, I was intrigued by the idea that floating can combat stress and anxiety, but I wanted to know if there's any science to back up this claim.
So I visited the lab of neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla. Feinstein is investigating float therapy as a nonpharmacological treatment for people with conditions like anxiety and depression.
"These are individuals with PTSD disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety — we covered the whole spectrum of different types of anxiety," he says.
Before volunteers get in the pool, Feinstein maps their brains using functional MRI, which provides images of the brain's metabolic activity. Feinstein takes images again after a 60-minute float. And he's finding that floating seems to quiet activity in the amygdala, the brain's center of fear and anxiety.
Feinstein asked if I wanted to try it, so after a quick shower, I jumped right in.
A staff member demonstrates the float tank used for studies at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla.