Real Life Account of my Sensory Deprivation Tank Experience

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Words: Ferina Natasya Aziz
Photos: Esther Tay

I am very open about my diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and I have been engaged in a process of management - and overcoming - this facet of response. Coming for a floatation tank experience at the Palm Ave Float Club was something I approached with an open mind, but equally with caution: despite being free of anxiety medication for a while now, I felt a need to be prepared and to have a coping mechanism “just in case” (a sentiment that resonates with many an anxiety sufferer).

I came today with the regular FAQs: what if I need to pee during the hour? (Don’t even think about it!), can I float naked? (Encouraged!). I was excited and worried in equal measure: I knew deep down this could help with allowing my body and mind to enter a free and deeply relaxed state. Yet, the complete sensory deprivation scared me. In the complete silence and darkness of an enclosed space I would be left only with myself and my own thoughts and the pervading fear that a panic attack would be triggered.

My mind got carried away with a stream of worries, what ifs. "What will happen to me if?" Did i say 'I love you' to Mum today?" etc. Such is the complexity and irrationality of anxiety disorders.

Apparently, I am not the only anxiety sufferer to come to the float club with the hopes of easing the condition. The float guide, Ayu, was kind to share some alterations and practices: for a start, I didn’t need to close the pod if I didn’t want to and I could leave the coloured lights to run if this would help. She even offered to stay in the room with me until it seemed I felt adjusted. She encouraged me to embrace my sense of bravery over fearcuriosity over assumed outcomes, and to breathe consciously and deeply, especially if tension was arising. By bringing focus to an internal dialogue of relax I could support my system in feeling as such, and the free floating sensation would equally help me.

It is when the brain enters it's most 'relaxed' state, changes can best occur. The floatation tank removes sensory and physical distraction to move you from a state of alertness and thinking (beta state) to one of deep relaxation, meditation and creativity (theta state). With all my confirmed 'clutches' (in cognitive behavioral terms), such as a spare Xanax, hot water, and emergency alarm, I at least felt safeguarded for any potential attacks. And something amazing happened: I left 1 hour later from the float feeling nothing of the anxiousness I was anticipating. None at all.

Stop worrying about worrying!
— What my colleague said to remind me

The one hour float felt so much shorter than that. Even for my first time, easing into it was easier than expected, especially with the personal intention to access a deeper meditative state.

I felt a lightness and a freedom that only heightened with the sensory deprivation: yes, I even closed the pod and turned the lights off. The floating that alleviated the weight in my body transitioned my mind into a state of relief and calm. My brain appeared to cycle in and out of theta states: sometimes my mind wandered, sometimes it focused on clear thought, other times it did not seem I contained any thoughts at all. My mind was curious about the lack of exertion in my body. Time was irrelevant. I am sure I had periods of napping. Here I was in a much needed physical-mental pause from long hours of sitting in front of a computer and endless activity. Here I was, actually content and pleased to be left alone with nothing but me, myself and I.

Was i suddenly a creative Picasso? - No. Was I ‘high’? - No. Was I asleep? - No. Maybe these intentions to feel that way could be tapped into when you do floatation regularly.
— My inner thoughts post float

It was something of an epiphany experience. I felt a kind of restoration not experienced with any of my other practices. The hours after felt like I was floating through the day, mind and spirit at ease with my surrounds. I also had my most restful deep-sleep in months. In fact, I slept a continuous 6 hours and woke feeling fresh and alert. This continued over the next few nights, where I slept fewer hours than usual, but didn’t feel fatigued.

I knew the Palm Ave Float Club crew were my kind of people when Sarah, the co-founder of Palm Ave, offered to have me float already a year ago when I was having constant panic attacks: this wasn’t about business but a genuine offer of a therapy that could really make a difference. I didn’t feel ready at the time, but in many ways I wish I had come to the club sooner.

Whether you are interested in mental or physical restoration I would say there is so much to be gained on both fronts when floating here. I know my journey with GAD is to be continued, but I feel I have accessed a part of myself that shows an ability to overcome the things I fear most. Personally, it was an education to let go of my expectations and anticipated outcomes, and remain open to possibility. In openness, we may surprise ourselves and find we have more resilience and more capability than we otherwise let ourselves imagine.

Get your own little pause at Palm Ave Float Club today! Show them this article and treat yourself to a special pause perk when you are there. Let us know how it all went for you in the comments below - we'd love to know!