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Night diving as stress management

By Slickrock Adventures on February 16, 2017

Belize night diving at Glover's Reef
The other day I was listening to an excellent podcast about managing emotional stress. This was an interview between the host of the podcast, Eileen Laird, and Evan Brand, an author and functional medicine practitioner who specializes in stress management.

Near the end of the podcast, Eileen asks Evan for his top 5 methods of relieving stress in a particularly difficult situation. He only listed 3, but the 3rd one is the one that caught my attention (the first two were hiking in nature, and getting a massage). He then recommended a visit to a sensory deprivation tank (aka float tank).

I have heard of these, but don’t know anyone who has ever used one. Evan described them as a giant bathtub with very advanced filtration methods, 10” of water, and 1000 pounds of Epsom salts dissolved into the water. The water temperature is about 95 and the tank is usually in a spa setting. You float on your back in a zero-gravity environment in complete darkness. This removes about 95% of the input that is coming into your brain. You are no longer seeing or hearing anything, nor can you feel anything because there is no gravity tugging on your body.

Evan says that a session in a float tank is extreme rest therapy. The brain is able to relax during this lull in activity, and can finally process former inputs. He claims that if you are constantly scanning the environment for what is going on at the time, you are unable to fully process past events that need your attention. He further claimed that this is the preferred treatment for those with PTSD. He says you ” come out of the tank reborn.”

The reason this got my attention is because I went night diving once (yes even though I work on the island and have been night snorkeling many, many times, I have only been night diving one time), and I experienced sensory deprivation at that time. Instead of swimming close to the coral and looking at everything with my dive light, I felt compelled to just hang there in mid space, doing nothing. I did this for the whole dive, letting my dive light hang down, shining into the void. I felt a deep relaxation like I had never experienced before. Just like Evan described the tank to be, it was mostly dark, and with my wetsuit, probably felt about 95 degrees (our water off the island is about 80). Because I was diving with a BCD and weights, I experienced zero gravity just like you always do when diving. And also as always when diving, you can’t hear anything except the sound of your own breathing. This was years and years ago, but I still vividly remember the sensation. I remember thinking “Wow, this is not scary at all.” And afterwards back on shore I reported to our group that I had felt like I was in a sensory deprivation tank during the dive!

I looked it up online, and a 90-minute session in a sensory deprivation tanks runs between $80-100. At our dive shop, a 50 minute night dive costs $75. I go down to the island in a month, I am going to make sure that I go on another night dive! I think I need a tune up.