Virtual reality has been seen to lessen the debilitating symptoms associated with anxiety and anxiety related disorders, which can in turn boost workplace productivity and overall employment satisfaction.
There are many clinical psychologists now exploring the use of VR technology for a range of mental health conditions including anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Many people experience small symptoms of anxiety, which can include feeling of unease such as worry or fear. However, when these become severe, it makes day to day life extremely difficult, causing further physical symptoms of excessive sweating and a rapid heartbeat. When anxiety becomes severe, it is classified as an anxiety disorder which is a type of mental health condition.
Anxiety related issues are becoming increasingly common in the current population, with a reported 38 percent of UK adults experiencing high levels of anxiety in 2021 (Crew, 2021). There have been concerns that the recent pandemic may have fuelled the increasing levels of anxiety, which could be due to being segregated from social contact with others as well as enhancing fears and phobias. It has been shown that the use of VR can help decrease and lessen these feelings of anxiety in a multitude of situations.
How does Virtual Reality aid in Anxiety Treatments?
Virtual reality (VR) has been seen to aid in the treatments of anxiety disorders, as well as being more cost effective than standard anxiety treatments alone (Baghaei et al., 2021; Rothbaum & Hodges, 1999). Specifically, phobia treatments have been seen to benefit the most from advancements in VR due to the high immersive feeling of VR. Examples of effective specific phobia treatments include those who display a fear of flying as the immersive feel of VR allows for the patients to feel that they are on the plane, yet they are still in a safe space in the comfort of the therapy room. This in turn decreased the patients’ phobic symptoms relating to flying, altered their behaviour and increased the likelihood of the patients to fly on an airplane following treatment (Ferrand et al., 2015). Not only have they been seen to be effective at the time of treatments, but these positive effects are maintained over several years (Wiederhold et al., 2002). VR is also effective for acrophobia (fear of hights), arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and social anxiety disorder (Emmelkamp et al., 2020; Hur et al., 2021).
The Importance of Alleviating Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder is defined as a psychiatric condition in which an individual experiences anxiety in social interactions. These can include conversations, meeting new people, public speaking, and group tasks, during which they may be judged or socially evaluated by others, which can be paralysing for individuals in workplace environments. Currently, VR is being implemented through the use of computer-generated social environments, such as conference rooms, with virtual audiences. This method of treating social anxiety disorder has been illustrated to be as effective, if not more than traditional cognitive behavioural therapy (Robillard et al., 2010), with the effects being maintained for a year post treatment (Alisna-Jurnet et al., 2007; Harris et al., 2002). Expanding upon this, VR has been highlighted to effectively treat public speaking anxiety (Aymerich-Franch & Baileson, 2014) which can a debilitating anxiety disorder resulting in poor teamwork and team building skills. High levels of state anxiety can also have a negative impact upon these mentioned skills, but VR has been implemented in order to significantly reduce state anxiety levels in a variation of environments (Camara & Hicks, 2019; Concannon et al., 2020). This is beneficial as high levels of state anxiety can be accountable for poor teamwork skills (Łukasik & Witek, 2017), therefore VR can help to decrease these levels of state anxiety and thus increase teamwork skills.
Implications for VR Training and VR Team Building
Overall, it can be seen that VR is effective in treating a multitude of anxiety disorders, ranging from specific phobias to social anxiety disorder. This is of interest as it highlights the benefits VR may possess in regards to alleviating the associated symptoms of social anxiety disorder, which can be implemented within current team building exercises in order to make them more effective and productive. In turn, this highlights the ever-growing benefits of implementing VR within the workplace in order to aid in improving overall work satisfaction, with these reported benefits being long lasting.
How does VRE Address these Findings?
Improving teamwork skills through team building tasks through VR is one of the main focuses here at Virtual Reality Experiences, where we offer a tailored programme in order to meet these goals. The research mentioned above provides an exciting insight into the practical applications VR can offer regarding the improvement of teamwork and team building tasks. Not only that, but this will allow for all employees to feel more comfortable and confident when speaking in social situations, decreasing anxiety related symptoms. Overall, this should create a more enjoyable, productive workforce, which is one of the key main goals for any company.
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Aymerich-Franch, L., & Baileson, J. (2014). The use of doppelgangers in virtual reality to treat public speaking anxiety: a gender comparison.
Baghaei, N., Chitale, V., Hlasnik, A., Stemmet, L., Liang, H. N., & Porter, R. (2021). Virtual reality for supporting the treatment of depression and anxiety: Scoping review. In JMIR Mental Health (Vol. 8, Issue 9). JMIR Publications Inc. https://doi.org/10.2196/29681
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