Anxiety is no new phenomenon but has grown tremendously throughout the years, and many believe there is a direct correlation between anxiety and technology. More than90 percent of the global population owns a smartphone, which provides unrestricted access to information 24/7. Many experts in the field believe technology increases anxiety by acting as a perpetual distraction, culminating in fear of missing out and growing social comparison. Technology could be why anxiety is rising in young people, but could it also be the key to a coping mechanism?
With help from local video game company Ninja Theory, researchers at the University of Cambridge developed a virtual reality game to help users cope with extreme anxiety. Almost everyone has experienced anxiety at least once, but many suffer from extreme social anxiety disorders that interfere with daily life. The VR game is designed to help cope by teaching breathing techniques to slow their heart rate and calm their nerves.
Lead researcher, Lucie Daniel-Watanabe, “Therapists often ask people to learn techniques, such as breathing techniques, in totally static and unengaged ways, and then say: ‘Try this while you’re stressed.’ But there’s no way of getting people to try it when they’re stressed in that therapeutic situation. VR allows you to completely manipulate the environment that people are in, which can be really useful in that regard.”
The game first immerses users in a calm setting to teach breathing techniques before transporting them to a more stressful environment. Here they will hear and see things such as screams or prisoners being dragged away, increasing their stress levels before facing the monster in the final stage. Users are told the monster cannot see them but can hear their heart rate, which is monitored via a heart-rate monitor attached to their finger, making the objective to remain calm by using breathing techniques.
Though VR shows potential in helping treat anxiety, Watanabe has made it clear she would never wish it to replace therapy, “It might be a resource that people could use if they were on a waiting list for cognitive behavioral therapy, to learn some basic techniques in the interim.”
Technology may be a possible coping mechanism for anxiety, but it can also cause environmental contamination if not properly disposed of. It may be tempting to start saving for the newest VR headset, but first, consider whether or not it will end up being tossed out or sitting in a dusty corner for months. IT hardware like VR headsets requires special disposition methods at facilities like HOBI, where they can be recycled or repurposed.
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