March 26, 2021

How Virtual Reality Cures the Blues

Innovative tools to combat mental health conditions.

When we were younger, our parents scolded us for playing video games late into the night. Back then, they were considered a silly pastime, but the sophistication and quality of video games have surged. Virtual reality, for example, isn't only used for racing fast cars or boxing matches. It's becoming a tool to help people heal.

Virtual reality is becoming a tool to help people heal.

A recently published study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at how virtual reality affects people's moods. The 79 people included in the study all had a mental health diagnosis, some experiencing suicidality or depression. Along with mood, they assessed other underlying feelings that may affect mood, like feelings of hopelessness.
The virtual reality platform they used, Edge of the Present, was elaborate. Participants didn't just observe the environment. They were able to immerse themselves and interact with objects in a room. Upon opening a door or window, they could enter lush rainforests, tropical beaches, and snow-covered mountains. Even more, the experiences included a sensory piece, like the feel of a warm breeze.
Another unique aspect of the experience was the surprise of each action. Each time the user would open a door or window, the scenery would change, or something magical would happen - think snow falling from the ceiling or grass growing at your feet. This feature encouraged users to feel "present, open, and curious" and as if they have a bit of control over their experiences.
After only 10 minutes of being in the virtual reality environment, the participants' bad mood decreased. They felt more hopeful and were in better spirits.

Real Green to Green Screen

Of all the scenes that could be experienced in virtual reality, why did the creators use natural scenery? They looked through the science and found promising evidence for nature-based therapy and how it positively affects physical and mental well-being. Even breathing clean, fresh air has its own benefits.

There's a consensus that being in nature makes us feel better.

Another study published in Sports supports this thought and even identified 27 ways to incorporate more nature into everyday life. Experts from all over the world weighed in, giving detail to each nature-based intervention and how they could positively impact physical and mental health. Like a healthy diet, the benefits of being in nature include decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, increased creativity and productivity, reduced pain and stress, and better physical shape.
hands making heart

Incorporating more nature into everyday life can decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Photo Credit.

Here are the top 10 ways they say we can easily incorporate nature into our daily surroundings, no back yard forest required:
Because a beautiful outdoor space may not be available to all, scientists are discovering and implementing ways to bring the outdoors in. Whether it's by virtual reality or spending time outdoors, there's a consensus that being in nature makes us feel better.
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