In the 21st Century, mental health disorders like stress, anxiety and depression have become a part of our daily lives. According to recent findings by the National Comorbidity Survey (https://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/) the lifetime prevalence for anxiety and mood disorders stands at 31.2% and 21.4%, respectively. In addition, millions of healthy people experience intense negative mood states without having a psychological disorder. These findings are important not only because of the high number of individuals affected but also because of the negative consequences anxiety and mood disorders have on wellbeing, leading, in the worst-case scenario, to serious restrictions in the professional, social and personal life.
The high prevalence of anxiety, stress and depression in the general population and the severe limitation it causes, point towards the need to design, develop and implement new strategies to cope with it in a more efficient way.
Despite having a large body of empirical evidence that supports the utility and efficacy of relaxation techniques to reduce negative emotions, they present some limitations:
- Relaxation procedures are very hard to learn.
- All methods for relaxation require repetitive practice and a lot of training time.
- Traditional relaxation procedures require advanced imagination skills.
- The lack of concentration is a widespread problem in our society.
A positive result
Fortunately, emerging technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) can be used to facilitate the relaxation process in both clinical and non-clinical populations. First, the presentation of VR relaxing scenes provides more real and vivid experiences than those that most users can recreate using their own imagination and memory. As a consequence, the user will experience more perdurable and intense emotions than ever before. Second, VR offers secure and controlled scenarios where the users can practice a variety relaxation techniques at their own pace and as many times as required to master the techniques. Finally, there is enough scientific evidence showing that skills learned within a virtual world (e.g. relaxation skills) are easily transferred to the real world.
After two decades of intense research, VR has been established as a powerful tool for the treatment of a variety of psychological and behavioral issues. In particular, controlled studies have already shown that this technology increases the efficacy and efficiency of the most traditional relaxation techniques.
Currently, the IOC is also working on the design, development, and validation of technological resources for the above-mentioned purposes based on the local characteristics.