Floating becomes latest anxiety reliever and aid in eating disorder recovery

CHICAGO — The popularity of sensory deprivation tanks has been on the rise for the past few years, as has the opening of new studios throughout the Chicagoland area. These tanks are filled with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt making it impossible to sink, and play ambient noise or guided meditations upon floater’s request.

Oto Float, a studio in the northern suburb of Wilmette, hopped on this bandwagon opening in August. Tait Medina, one of the founders, began floating in the 1990s as a pain reliever during her professional ballet career. From there, she discovered the many positive impacts it has on overall health as well.

In an interview with Jen Stutler, an employee at Oto Float and girlfriend of founder John Mancine, she says “I find that it seriously reduces my anxiety. My first float amplified it, my heart was beating fast, but now I can’t wait to get in the tank. It’s safe in there. And I find I have a better outlook when I’m done. I feel better for days.”

Float tank at Oto Float in Wilmette, IL

Dr. Justin Feinstein, a clinical neuropsychologist at California Institute of Technology, says, “People who have anxiety talk a lot of about this pressure. This pressure of life that they feel on top of them, and getting into a tank is an immediate relief of this pressure.”

How does it work?

Floating causes a feeling of weightlessness, and the reduction of external stimuli allows for a deep state of relaxation. In this state, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, which reduces anxiety.

Emily Noren, who discovered floating during her recovery from an eating disorder says, “your brain and body are not used to this kind of stillness. It’s meditation on steroids, which means that a lot of feelings, fears, and thoughts are right in front of you with no distractions.”

Similarly to Stutler, “Sometimes I find that I feel most relaxed and strong after the float because of all the mental work I do in the tank,” Noren says.

She appeared as a guest speaker at the 2015 Float Conference, and shared her experience. While floating, the intrusive thoughts of an eating disorder, or the Ed voice, are not as present, and her body felt different in the non-gravity environment, she explains. “Being able to get into a float tank was the same kind of instant relief and escape that I sought from bingeing and purging food, from restricting calories or from taking drugs,” Noren says.

So, floating became her new coping mechanism. “Each float gets deeper and more introspective the more you do it,” she says. “Ed couldn’t get me in the float tank. For 90 minutes what he said didn’t matter.”

Today, Emily is fully recovered, and she is able to live the life she wanted, a life without her eating disorder. She continues to float on a regular basis.