From Floatation To Acupuncture, How Effective Are Different Stress-Relieving Tactics?

This week, we're talking about stress at Refinery29. In a bid to help relieve yours, we've teamed up with Treatwell to give you the chance to win £800 worth of treatments over the next year. Enter online here before the 17th of April 2017. T&Cs apply.
From reflexology to floatation tanks, our health editor Jess Commons road-tested a few of the treatments on offer – read on for her take.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a weird one – getting someone to stick needles in you to relieve pain? Seems counterintuitive.
There's obviously more to it than that. The concept is that the needles stimulate sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles of the body. Acupuncture is often used as a pain relieving tactic due to its reported ability to release the body's natural pain relieving endorphins.
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Photo: Caiaimage/Trevor Adeline
However, it can also be used, so I am told, to relieve stress and anxiety. And so, I find myself in my pants, face down on a table at the Dandelion Acupuncture Clinic being stuck with needles by a very lovely lady who intersperses her sticking with massaging me with lavender oil.
This being my first time, I find the sticking a little alarming at first, and some places hurt more than others, like my wrists. But, once the initial sticking is done, it feels fine. There's a dull ache in my right wrist but the acupuncturist assures me this is normal; apparently women are more "yin" than "yang" which means their right side is more sensitive.
After a while lying there, I do begin to feel an electric energy in my legs. It's like if you touch your laptop when it's plugged in and you feel a slight buzzing from the electrical currents. It's a nice sensation and calms me down immeasurably.
By the end of the hour, I've adapted to my life as a human pincushion and I'm actually quite sad when the acupuncturist returns to unstick me. She feeds me raw honey mixed with nigella seeds and leaves me with some seeds stuck to my ears with plasters (I look very cool, and will continue to until the plasters fall off) and the whole experience is over.
Acupuncture is an ongoing treatment and apparently works better as a course rather than a one off. I definitely do feel calmer, more energised and motivated afterwards though, if a little spaced out. In fact, I opt to walk 40 mins to the station rather than getting a bus. That's got to be a good sign.
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Reflexology

This is the feet one. The one where the practitioner presses on different parts of your foot to balance both the mind and body – sounds like it would be good for stress right?
One thing I hadn't thought about though, like a total moron, was the feet aspect. Not only do I hate my feet, I was also sporting some very old nail varnish on my toes that had gone past the stage of "oh that'll be alright". Luckily, my reflexologist at Soma Therapy didn't seem to mind and, considering how close he placed his face to my feet, they couldn't smell that bad after a long day wearing old trainers either.
Photo: Courtesy Of Soma Therapy
For those wondering how on earth an hour-long foot rub can possibly have any effect on your mental wellbeing, at the beginning, I was right there with you. The reflexologist tells me he reckons he can feel tension and stress just by massaging the ball of my feet, but then, about 15 minutes in, something mad happens. At any given time throughout the day, I have knot in my chest – a heavy feeling that sits there like a burden. All of sudden though, it goes. It literally disappears in a second. My arms and legs get heavy, I breathe deeper and relief floods my brain.
As an experiment I try to conjure up some negative thoughts: "remember that big meeting tomorrow", "you haven't finished that feature" I say to myself. But really, truly, I cannot make myself care.
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The reflexologist finishes up with a head and shoulder massage where he reports again that my shoulders are very, very tight thanks to all the tension I carry around. The benefits of the session last all evening and the therapist reckons that, in time, with a series of treatments there could also be long terms benefits.
Either way, that feeling of relaxation is something I'm unlikely to forget for a long time.

Massage

Having a massage as a form of relaxation is a total no brainer right? Sure, maybe for some. For me though, it was by far the most stressful thing in my diary that day. Why? Well, how is an entire hour where you're forced to be alone with your own thoughts while a stranger rubs parts of you that haven't been touched in months not stressful? It's you lot that are weird, not me.
Photo: Courtesy Of Therapies At The Grocery
Once there though, the professional attitude of the masseuse at Therapies at The Grocery does a lot to calm my nerves. He explains exactly what will happen, answers all my (many) questions and actually does speak in those hushed tones that Phoebe has to speak in at the massage parlour in Friends. In short, he does a lot to calm my nerves before the thing even begins.
The next hurdle for me though was the solid hour alone with my own thoughts. I don't do that. Ever. Every waking minute is taken up with podcasts, telly, music or work. Thinking too much rarely gets me anywhere apart from into an anxiety spiral so um, I don't do it. Once the massage starts though, my mind drifts, and it's not to bad places. I focus on the lovely music, the nice smell, the un-tightening of my muscles...
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An hour rushes by and, by the end of it, I feel looser, more in touch with my thoughts and, crucially, more in control of my thoughts. I've just spent a solid hour with no distractions and, guess what, I didn't manage to manifest negative thoughts about how stressed I was – in fact, I kind of enjoyed it.
The post-massage calmness lasts about an hour before I'm back to stressing about the following day.

Floatation

This was certainly the weirdest one. Shutting yourself in big human-sized pod filled with lukewarm salty water while you float around, stark naked, in the pitch black for an hour sounds more like something out of Westworld than a stress-relieving tactic. And yet, nevertheless, here I was, in Canary Wharf at the London Floatation Centre, about to do just that.
Flotation takes place in Epsom salts, which are made up of magnesium. Apparently Epsom salt's ions are "essential to all known living cells" and flotation is a way to increase magnesium levels in the body. Also, salt stops you from sinking which means you feel totally weightless. This will, according to the centre's website, "allow your mind to drift away for pure inner peace and a total tranquil experience."
The pods are situated in separate closed off rooms so you are invited, nay encouraged, to strip down to your birthday suit before entering the glowing blue pod. Once in there, you pull down the lid, turn off the light (it really, truly is pitch flipping black) and lay back in the salty water while the noises of birds and waves wash around you. After ten minutes, the birds and waves switch off and you're left alone, in the darkness, enveloped in complete silence.
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After you figure out where to place your hands (above your head) and how not to keep accidentally propelling yourself into the sides of the pod, it is possible to feel totally weightless, like you're floating in space, completely naked. Which is a pretty cool feeling.
Photo: Via @londonfloatation
Also, with nothing to think about, except occasionally how much it feels like you're in a science fiction movie, there's plenty of time to clear your head and muse gently on nice thoughts. I struggled to come up with any negative thoughts.
I do have to say that after a while, the water felt a bit like fast-cooling bathwater and it did sting my nether regions a little. But, nevertheless, the end came around sooner than I expected. Did I feel relaxed after? Maybe a little. Definitely one for the novelty factor.
As part of Under Pressure: R29's week on stress we've partnered with Treatwell to offer one lucky reader the opportunity to test these relaxing experiences for a WHOLE YEAR, that's right, £800 to spend on luxurious treatments to help de-stress and zone out whenever you need to. Enter online here before the 17th of April 2017. T&C's Apply.
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