Workplace floatation tank schemes could reduce sick leave absence

Researchers from Karlstad University in Sweden have found that flotation-REST (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique) treatments effectively reduce stress, anxiety and depression and significantly increase optimism and sleep quality in healthy employed adults. The research article, Beneficial effects of treatment with sensory isolation in flotation-tank as a preventive health-care intervention, a randomized controlled pilot trial, was published last month in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Lack of sleep, depression and anxiety are strong contributors to sick leave absence from work. Previous research into the effects of flotation-REST has focused on individuals suffering from various ailments. The researchers wanted to investigate the effects of this therapy when used by working professionals, in order to find out if flotation-REST is a suitable method for preventing stress and stress related problems in healthy participants.

65 participants took part in the study, which was organised as part of a cooperative health project by the companies that the participants worked for. The participants were split into two groups, the waitlist group and the floatation tank treatment group. Those in the treatment group had 12 flotation sessions spread over 7 weeks. Each session lasted around 45 minutes, during which the participant lay horizontally within a floatation tank. The flotation tanks contained highly concentrated salt water which was heated to skin temperature. Within the flotation tank all incoming stimuli such as sound and light was reduced to a minimum.

The researchers also suggested from the findings that flotation tank treatment facilitates the psychological process of increased mindfulness, but commented that further studies were needed before this could be confirmed. Flotation-REST treatment was also found to lower levels of worst pain. Although participants in the study were not pain patients, they did experience some pain in different parts of the body that reportedly diminished significantly e.g. muscle tensions.

Common stress related symptoms include fatigue, burnout syndrome and gastric complaints. Stress is the most common reason for sick leave absence and it can also reduce workforce productivity and increase the risk of psychiatric disorders among staff members. Occupationally induced fatigue plays a major role in work related psychological illnesses and research has shown that insufficient opportunity to recover from work fatigue contributes to the emergence of stress related illnesses.

The results of this study indicate that flotation-REST may reduce contributing factors to potential stress related illness as well as increase certain psychological factors in healthy participants. The researchers concluded that flotation-REST treatments seem to enhance wellbeing and general health and could have great importance as a preventative healthcare method. If other companies were to follow suit and facilitate floatation-REST treatment programs, total staff sick days could potentially be reduced.

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