Emotional triggers can dig deep, so those of us who suffer from stress responses may feel the need to limit our anxieties by avoiding scary situations or places. In the case of heart disease, learning limits might be life-saving, but other issues might not improve unless we push ourselves.
We can’t always say how we’ll react to a given situation, and when stress is a factor, real-world interventions don’t always go as planned. Virtual reality (VR) could be the next phase in therapy and help people by addressing stress responses in safe, controlled environments. Here’s how it works.
Measuring Stress is Tricky
Stress can kill, especially in people who suffer from certain heart conditions. Not everyone reacts to the same stressors, however, and gauging a person’s physical responses in real-time can be tricky. No one wants to induce an actual heart attack during a stress test, but sometimes doctors must push patients to establish their limits.
VR could be the answer to this conundrum. Using this tech, we may be able to better measure a heart patient's stress threshold by simulating environments designed to trigger physical responses. Doctors can measure real-time heart rate and other physical markers while their patients navigate stressful situations in the safety of their office. Measurements can help predict patient vulnerability in certain conditions, which could help heart patients better understand their constraints.
Other doctors are taking VR in an entirely different direction, using it instead to push their patients as far as they can. Experts are offering a new take on exposure therapy for anxiety by giving it a VR spin. Proponents of exposure push the importance of facing our fears, understanding that avoidance of stressful situations only makes our anxieties worse.
Using VR, therapists can subject patients to stressful scenarios while also offering them a sense of safety and control over the situation. The patient can end the session at any time if it gets too intense, but they may be more likely to feel empowered by pushing through despite their discomfort. In exposure theory, the more exposure the person can endure, the better conditioned they become to facing it independently. Because the mind processes VR the same way it would in a real environment, virtual exposure could be a real solution for people seeking a new approach in tackling stressful situations.
Virtual reality could open doors to therapy in ways conventional approaches might fall short. These are just the first options as doctors explore ways to use this tech to make our lives better. Because VR can take our minds anywhere, the applications are only as limited as our imaginations.
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