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Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

Four Real World Examples of VR for Mindfulness and Meditation

According to a Harvard Health, mindfulness is “a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness” and is known to “help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.” 

Despite its benefits, however, mindfulness training can be intimidating to non-practitioners and particularly difficult for remote participants. This has lead researchers to investigate how Virtual Reality (VR) can be used to lower the barriers and increase the efficacy of meditation practice for a variety of purposes and populations. Below are four recent examples.

To Increase Positive Emotion in the General Population

A recent study out of Melbourne, Australia is one of several that points to VR as a viable option for improving mental health and mindfulness. Mindfulness is a great way to improve mental health, however, under normal circumstances, is a difficult habit to adopt due to environmental and personal distractions. Virtual Reality (VR) directly addresses these challenges “by providing an immersive environment for practicing mindfulness and by supporting the user to orient attention to the present moment within a tailored virtual setting.” A group of 37 participants were recruited to trial a VR mindfulness app in which users were presented with 360 video of a “peaceful forest environment with a guided mindfulness voiceover.” Researchers analyzed participant scores on the State Mindfulness Scale, Simulator Sickness Questionnaire, arousal, and positive or negative emotion before and after users participated in the simulation. Although there were initial concerns about simulator sickness and negative emotion, neither of these variables produced any notable changes following the simulation. However, state mindfulness and positive emotion significantly increased, participants reporting that “the use of VR helped them to focus on the present moment by using visual and auditory elements of VR as attentional anchors.” The spatial presence of virtual environments allowed participants to practice mindfulness and meditation, positively affecting their mental health and well-being.

To Reduce Stress In the Workplace

A study out of England analyzed workplace stress specifically in the National Health Service (NHS) and tested the effectiveness of Virtual Reality in decreasing levels of stress and promoting overall well being. “Work-related stress, defined as ‘a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work’ is one of the most important emerging risks in occupational management and health.” This stress is threatening not only the quality of services provided, but the sustainability of vital healthcare systems and corporations around the world. Researchers provided a 10-minute VR relaxation experience to 39 trauma staff working in a fast-paced environment. Following the session, participants “reported significantly increased feelings of happiness and relaxation, and significantly decreased feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety.” Furthermore, patients experienced a significant reduction in heart rate and yielded high acceptability ratings. Ultimately, the study found that VR relaxation sessions were beneficial to the health and well-being of healthcare workers, and many were excited at the opportunity to implement it into their everyday lives.

To Help Treat Opioid Addiction

VR mindfulness and relaxation are also being implemented in the midst of the opioid epidemic. This epidemic is an ever-so-present problem in our society, and the key to preventing further damage is by exploring viable alternatives to pain relief. According to The Gate Theory of Pain proposed by Melzack and Wall in 1965, “a person may interpret pain stimuli differently depending upon mental/emotional factors such as attention paid to the pain, emotions associated with the pain, and past experience of the pain.” Believe it or not, we can essentially “distract” our way out of pain. Virtual Reality addresses two of Melzack and Wall’s points – attention and emotional state. Through VR technology, patients can escape to an alternate reality, sending positive signals to their brain and subsequently lessening the pain they are experiencing. This technology dates back to 1996, when the Harborview Burn Center “successfully piloted the use of VR for burn patients with severe acute pain,” which inspired other providers to make VR technology accessible to patients experiencing acute pain. Recent studies have shown promising results for relieving chronic pain as well, patients reporting high levels of satisfaction and a significant reduction in overall pain. Although VR cannot fully take the place of opioids, it can definitely be used as an alternative for certain candidates, considering their level of pain and potential risk factors.

To Act As A Moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

Virtual Reality is another promising candidate as a moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy (PP), a “unique psychopharmacological model that leverages the profound effects of the psychedelic experience.” PP is highly reliant on two key factors – the patient’s mindset and their surrounding environment. Consequently, meditation, relaxation, and visualization are supplemental tools in creating the most effective environment for this therapy. Virtual Reality is a promising candidate to provide these tools, given its evidenced capacity to “aid relaxation and reduce anxiety; buffer from external stimuli; promote a mindful presence; train the mind to achieve altered states of consciousness (ASC); evoke mystical states; enhance therapeutic alliance and encourage self-efficacy.” Because there was little empirical evidence on the joint application of VR technology in Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy, researchers aimed to gather evidence on the ability to achieve a deeper sense of consciousness in a virtual environment. 

They found 7 different ways that VR can be used to support psychedelic treatments:

1. Mitigate psychological side effects through enhancing the state of relaxation,

2. Help participants sustain their focus on intention by removing familiar cues that keep them tethered to their external world,

3. Encourage entering the inner world of experience by inducing a mindful presence,

4. Deepen the intensity of acute psychological and emotional states via simultaneous targeting of ME-evoking pathways,

5. Prime the capacity to achieve an altered states of consciousness (ASC) through familiarization and comfort with the ASC experience,

6. Enhance and maintain a hierarchy-free therapeutic alliance that is consistent throughout treatment,

7. Strengthen resilience and a sense of agency around facing challenging experiences.

It is also important to note the comfort and safety of the environments that VR provides, allowing patients to temporarily distract themselves from the emotionally taxing process of overcoming and treating PTSD or related disorders. Researchers ultimately recommend that VR be introduced into PP, as long as it is “developed in accordance with a robust protocol…and accompanied by thorough training of any practitioners involved in therapy.” Virtual Reality has the ability to transform the future of psychedelic treatments, as long as appropriate precautions are taken to not introduce disturbing or traumatic triggers or distract from the inner narrative.

The Foretell Reality platform provides safe VR environments to support various mental health treatment protocols including those that incorporate mindfulness training and relaxation experiences as part of the protocol. To learn more about our platform, please reach out to us for a demo.

Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

VR for Overcoming the Challenges of Meditating

We all know that meditation is good for you. With roots in spiritual and secular traditions stretching back thousands of years, meditation is a time-tested way to reduce stress and enhance mental and physical well-being. Tradition has been backed by testing in recent years, as the health benefits of meditation have been substantiated by the scientific community. Studies have shown that meditation’s ability to regulate emotional intensity mitigates both emotional distress and physical pain, and can even remedy physical ailments like high blood pressure. For these reasons and more, meditation has tripled in popularity over the past decade, with no signs of slowing down. 

There is an inherent paradox with meditation, however. The common reasons to meditate–overthinking, stress, anxiety–also present a real challenge to meditating in the first place. Meditation aims to achieve a clear mind, but when effective meditation hinges on clearing the mind to begin with, it’s hard to know where to start. With our attention span collectively narrowing and a bevy of distractions constantly available to us, not to mention a global pandemic weighing on us all, meditation is at once more necessary and more difficult than ever. 

Meditation in Virtual Reality (VR) addresses these obstacles on the road to mindfulness, even offering several advantages to traditional meditation. Let’s start with distractions: the all-encompassing nature of a VR headset, enveloping our senses in 360 degrees of sight and sound, eliminates some of the self-discipline required by traditional meditation. No longer do you need to practice monastic self-restraint inches away from your phone or computer, as a VR headset is just as engaging and entertaining as your devices, but ultimately works toward a productive end. The visual and auditory sensations of VR immerse participants in their meditation, allowing them to focus solely on mindfulness to an extent that’s challenging even for experienced meditators. Paired with auxiliary activities like breathing exercises, VR makes meditation more accessible for newcomers than ever before.

Guided group meditation has traditionally helped newer practitioners get into the groove of meditation, as the group setting offers several advantages to going it alone. Group accountability, relatability, and consistency are key advantages to practicing mindfulness as a group. It’s difficult, however, to effectively conduct group meditation over Zoom or even in-person, and VR not only makes group meditation possible but actually augments several advantages of group meditation. Anonymized avatars provide a level of comfort for those with social anxiety, allowing them to participate in group meditation without presenting additional stress. Even in group settings, users can individualize their meditation session to fit their personal preferences, benefitting from the social aspect of group meditation without compromising their own meditation experience. 

Beyond accommodating personal preferences, customizability allows for regular meditation despite daily variations in mood and mindset. Say you want to meditate, but you’re feeling particularly fidgety or restless today. Instead of sitting still atop a vista, you can opt for a more active meditation session interacting with butterflies in a field or sea life on the ocean floor. If you’re feeling particularly anxious and want to meditate in a familiar, comforting environment, you can spend your time in the Dunder Mifflin office or Rick and Morty’s garage. Moreover, VR integration with biofeedback allows users to better understand how meditation affects them and modify their sessions accordingly. The range of environments and activities available, as well as on-the-fly adjustments made according to biofeedback results, can tailor meditation sessions for a given day, ensuring that you never miss out on the benefits of mindfulness.

The control that customizable VR meditation offers can itself be a source of comfort. Especially during the pandemic, when many felt a lack of agency in their daily lives, the ability to design your own space for rest and relaxation can do wonders for one’s mental health. The variety of environments, many of them real-life travel destinations, addresses the stir craziness many felt from stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Not to mention, the socialization potential for group meditation in VR allows users to feel connected and present with one another when physically shared spaces may not always be an option. 

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform for mental health and wellbeing that supports both group and individual mindfulness practice among other activities including group therapy and peer support. To learn more or schedule a demo, please visit our website..

Mindfulness, Therapy and Support

The Benefits of Group Mindfulness in VR

Meditation’s popularity has grown more than three fold in the past decade and the pandemic has shed even more light on the practice as people struggle with depression, anxiety, and isolation. Though often done alone, a recent article from PositivePsychology.com highlights several benefits of practicing mindfulness as a group. These include:

Motivation – “Organized group meditation provides an opportunity for those who might not practice alone to show up.”

Relatedness – “Having others present during a mindfulness session can boost our resolve and provide a sense of ‘we are in this together,’ especially when we are prone to distraction. “

Competence – “If the leader makes time for the group to discuss the challenges they face, each session can provide a valuable opportunity to share solutions.”

Autonomy – “While it may sound counterintuitive, mindfulness as a group may have fewer distractions and offer a more profound experience.”

But what about when you are not able to join other people in a group, particularly during a pandemic? Group mindfulness in Virtual Reality (VR) offers its own set of benefits over both in person and video sessions. These include:

Accessibility – VR allows individuals who may not want or may be unable to travel to participate in group sessions from anywhere in the world. This includes patients confined to hospital beds, people suffering from social anxiety, or those living in rural areas.

Anonymity – The virtual embodiment provided by avatars also provides anonymity for those who may not wish to reveal their identity or be on camera, particularly during discussion sessions.

Calming Environments – The sights and sounds within in VR can foster mindfulness and focus attention in ways that a meditator does not have to close his or her eyes and imagine.

Individualized Experiences – Even when participating in mindfulness exercises as a group, individuals can choose their own environment while still seeing others in the space. Additionally, biofeedback can provide individual indicators of stress level and other measures.

The Foretell Reality platform enables social VR experiences for mindfulness, social skills, and overall mental health including group therapy and support and addiction recovery. Click here to request a demo.

 

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