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ARCHIVED  September 24, 1999

Stress-relief therapy resurfaces locally

FORT COLLINS — The CEO of a Fortune 500 media conglomerate had a ready answer when a magazine writer asked him how he handled the stress his top-level job dealt him.

“I don’t get stress,” he said. “I give stress.”

People who have neither the power nor the inclination to take the same approach have to figure out other ways to deal with job-related stress, an affliction many health care professionals say is the most underrated health risk in America.

A Fort Collins woman is hoping many will seek relief in a pool of salt water.

“We are waking up to the need for rest and self-care, but it’s happening very slowly,´ said Joan Welsh, who launched Float for Health in January. “The benefits of meditation, rest and exercise have been well-researched and proven. So why don’t people do that? The primary reason is that our society has not historically valued rest.”

If attitudes change, then flotation therapy will make the comeback for which Welsh hopes. A case for changing is apparent in numbers that the nonprofit American Institute of Stress tracks. According to the institute:

* Forty-three percent of Americans suffer health problems as a direct result of stress.

* One million workers are absent on an average workday because of stress-related complaints.

* Stress-caused absenteeism costs American business $300 billion annually.

The number of workers’ compensation claims for stress-related injuries has soared, according to institute statistics. Last year, California alone shelled out $1 billion in workers’ comp claims. Nine out of 10 stress lawsuits are successful, and awards average four times greater than other injury claims.

Relax, Welsh says. Help is one the way.

Float for Health is in the middle of an upstream swim, resurrecting a therapeutic practice that has suffered from a public-relations problem. Flotation tanks — Welsh prefers the word “pools” — emerged in the 1960s under the inappropriate label “sensory deprivation chambers.”

“It’s had a long, long road back to respectability,´ said Welsh, who holds a doctorate in psychology and whose new business is an add-on to her counseling practice. “For a long time, it was associated with drug use. It was even thought that the experience would make you psychotic.”

The flotation idea is a simple one: Put enough salt in water, and the human body refuses to sink. Rather, it floats almost weightlessly, buoyed by the super-dense fluid.

Tourists at the Great Salt Lake and Israel’s Dead Sea know the secret. They frolic happily in waters that offer mere hints of the effects of floating in “prescription” pools.

Welsh’s center on West Prospect Road in Fort Collins is one of only 36 in operation nationwide. Her equipment, purchased through Sumadhi Inc., a California company that specializes in flotation chambers, includes two pools. One is open, the other, an enclosed box.

The arrangement meant that Welsh had to reject the advice of the gurus of float, the couple who founded Sumadhi.

“They have this view that floating must be done inside the box,” Welsh said. “They said part of the value of getting in the box is that it forces people to face their fear of small places. “Well, why should I want to face my fear of small places?”

The idea, after all, is to relax.

First glance at the pools in Float for Health tells nothing about the sophistication of Welsh’s business. The recipe might be simple enough — add 800 pounds of pharmaceutical-grade magnesium sulfate to 200 gallons of 93-degree water. Stir.

Maintenance is more complicated. The water is continuously filtered, passed under ultraviolet, sanitizing light and regularly tested by the county’s Department of Environmental Health, the same agency that monitors public swimming pools and commercial spas.

Evidence that floating offers specific health benefits has begun to creep into highly respected journals and is supported by studies at major universities. Welsh offers armloads of examples.

One study monitored blood levels of the stress hormones cortisol and ACTH in subjects as they floated. “They both dropped significantly during that period,” Welsh said. Likewise, other studies show that floating lowers heart rates, decreases blood pressure and cuts pain levels.

A guest book at Float for Health offers even more compelling testimony. Scores of Welsh’s clients have offered their first-hand assessments of floating.

“I was out of pain,” wrote one, a chronic pain sufferer. “It was wonderful.”

FORT COLLINS — The CEO of a Fortune 500 media conglomerate had a ready answer when a magazine writer asked him how he handled the stress his top-level job dealt him.

“I don’t get stress,” he said. “I give stress.”

People who have neither the power nor the inclination to take the same approach have to figure out other ways to deal with job-related stress, an affliction many health care professionals say is the most underrated health risk in America.

A Fort Collins woman is hoping many will seek relief in a pool of salt water.

“We are waking up to the need for…

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