There’s a lot about stress being written lately — by us. We’ve given you ways to cope, and advised you to go for a walk in the park. The latest trend to revolutionise how to deal we stress? Virtual Reality. Yep, VR is the latest way to go — a new form of meditation that will help with your stress, and so much more.
And let us say, we need it. One in five Aussies has taken time off work in the past 12 months because they’re stressed, anxious, depressed, or mentally unhealthy. And although we’ve (finally) started a new year, with fresh resolutions and goals, it’s still likely the next months — if not the entire year — is still likely to be tumultuous, to say the least. Just look at the US.
Edwina Griffin, health and high-performance expert, believes her app AtOne could be just the answer. It’s no regular app, however. If the headline didn’t give it away, you’re looking at the world’s first immersive VR guided meditation app.
If you’re wondering how a VR guided meditation app (say that five times fast) works, it takes a multi-sensory approach. Think LED lights, real and virtual scenes that allow you to travel out to space all while sitting in your office chair.
Voice, music and scent can also be incorporated into the meditation — it’s all up to you. There’s original music from Australian musicians and Indigenous elders, along with Solfeggio frequencies. Ever been intrigued by the music of a marijuana plant? You can hear it with the app (yes, you read that right).
If you’re not quite convinced, The Latch spoke to Griffin about everything meditation, virtual reality, and mental health. This could be just the thing if you’re the one in twenty people who mindfulness doesn’t work for!
Why is meditation so important?
Well, as we’ve covered, we’re all pretty stressed. Burning out, something the World Health Organisation identified as a phenomenon in 2019, is yet something else we need to watch out for.
So how exactly can meditation help us out? According to Griffin, “Meditation strengthens both self-awareness and group awareness, and it reduces the physiological symptoms of stress and anxiety, improving focus and the ability to sleep“.
If that’s not enough to convince you of its benefits, research has shown it can also change the brain structure (in a good way, before you begin to worry). The part of the brain where anxiety and stress hang out together, the Amygdala, shrinks after meditation 20 minutes a day for two months.
So how does virtual reality fit into all of this?
As you all know, we love research here, and there’s plenty of it to back up the benefits of virtual reality. One study found that nature-based mindfulness VR shifted the brainwave state from higher Beta frequencies to lower Beta. “[This] is consistent with a physiological reduction in anxiety,” says Griffin.
VR as a distraction tool? Yep, that’s a thing too. Another study found when used in this way, it can reduce pain, anxiety, and help with anger management in an emergency room — that sound you hear is hospitals across Australia cheering.
But why a VR app?
It was a personal experience in a toxic workplace that sparked AtOne. “I collapsed from stress and I found that an audio meditation wasn’t enough to help me switch off. I needed all senses to be targeted,” Griffin recounts.
Finding the fluorescent lights and white walls of the office stressful, Griffin wanted to “bring nature to the user”.
“I want people to be able to go into their own world to create a moment, or several moments of real bliss and relaxation in their day — no matter what’s going on in their real, external world.”
As someone who has taught meditation for over 20 years, she’s found people get frustrated and stressed because they don’t think they can meditate properly.
“Providing the visual effect combined with music, spoken suggestions, and using smell means that you are taken to that place of bliss and relaxation, and you’re fully immersed into the experience, whether you think you can meditate or not.”
It also allows people isolated in remote areas, or carers who can’t leave the house, the option to take some time out in a beautiful location, according to Griffin.
How could VR effect the mental health industry beyond meditation?
Beyond what’s already been explored, “the possibilities are limitless,” says Griffin.
One specific way? “Practitioners can meet their clients virtually within the headset, one-on-one. Teams can also meet within the headset.”
They’re already developing in this area, states Griffin, as “connection is so important during these times of lockdown, when many people are isolated.”