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DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2022.995594; PMCID: PMC9780456


The central nervous system (CNS) exerts a strong regulatory influence over the cardiovascular system in response to environmental demands. Floatation-REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) is an intervention that minimizes stimulation from the environment, yet little is known about the autonomic consequences of reducing external sensory input to the CNS. We recently found that Floatation-REST induces a strong anxiolytic effect in anxious patients while paradoxically enhancing their interoceptive awareness for cardiorespiratory sensations. To further investigate the physiologic nature of this anxiolytic effect, the present study measured acute cardiovascular changes during Floatation-REST using wireless and waterproof equipment that allowed for concurrent measurement of heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), breathing rate, and blood pressure. Using a within-subjects crossover design, 37 clinically anxious participants with high levels of anxiety sensitivity and 20 non-anxious comparison participants were randomly assigned to undergo a 90-min session of either Floatation-REST or an exteroceptive comparison condition that entailed watching a relaxing nature film. Measures of state anxiety and serenity were collected before and after each session, while indices of autonomic activity were measured throughout each session. HRV was calculated using both time-series and frequency domain analyses. Linear mixed-effects modeling revealed a significant main effect of condition such that relative to the film condition, Floatation-REST elicited significant decreases (p < 0.001) in diastolic blood pressure, systolic blood pressure, breathing rate, and certain metrics of HRV including the standard deviation of the interbeat interval (SDNN), low-frequency HRV, and very low-frequency HRV. Heart rate showed a non-significant trend (p = 0.073) toward being lower in the float condition, especially toward the beginning of the session. The only metric that showed a significant increase during Floatation-REST was normalized high-frequency HRV (p < 0.001). The observed physiological changes were consistent across both anxious and non-anxious participants, and there were no significant group by condition interactions. Blood pressure was the only cardiac metric significantly associated with float-related reductions in state anxiety and increases in serenity. These findings suggest that Floatation-REST lowers sympathetic arousal and alters the balance of the autonomic nervous system toward a more parasympathetic state.

CLINICAL TRIAL REGISTRATION: [], identifier [NCT03051074].

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Front Neurosci



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anxiety; autonomic; blood pressure; heart rate variability; interoception


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