Can You Treat Anxiety With Virtual Reality?

Can you beat anxiety with virtual reality

Anxiety is one of the most widespread mental health conditions today. With an estimated 7.6 percent of people worldwide suffering from some form of anxiety, it’s safe to say that we need to understand it better.

Medication is typically the main course of treating anxiety. But there are natural ways to tackle anxiety and keep it at bay.

With that in mind, let’s look at what anxiety is, how prevalent it is in Australia, and what we can do to protect ourselves from the condition.

 

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal reaction to external stress and is characterized by worrisome thoughts, nervousness, and sometimes panic for what’s to come (1). Aside from the psychological effects, anxiety can also bring physical symptoms, such as:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Heavy and rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Weakness
  • Trembling

Feeling anxious from time to time is entirely normal and unavoidable. For example, holding a speech in front of people, going on a date, and starting a new job are just three of the many things that can cause anxiety. But most life events that cause anxiety pass eventually, and a sense of calmness follows.

The problem comes when anxiety doesn’t go away, and we have to live with it for months, even years. Anxiety also becomes a problem when it leads to sleeplessness, which itself (2, 3):

  • Has a profound adverse impact on our health
  • Reduces our productivity, concentration, and cognitive function
  • Impacts our emotional health and mood

In such cases, it’s essential to take an objective look at ourselves and take actionable steps to treat our anxiety.

 

Anxiety In Australia

According to research, anxiety is one of the leading mental disorders in Australia today. One in seven Australians aged 16 to 85 suffers from anxiety, which comes out to around 2.83 million people (4).

Statistics also show that more than a quarter of Australians aged 16 to 85 experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. The percentage equates to nearly five million people.

These numbers are worrisome, but we can also look at them as an encouragement to make better choices, treat our anxiety, and prevent it from occurring in the future.

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Beating Anxiety Through Exercise

Physical activity might seem like the last thing to do when suffering from anxiety. But there are several compelling reasons why you might do precisely that.

First, we know that having a workout, even a short one, is a great way to improve our mood. The body releases endorphins in response to exercise, which suppress pain (5). But aside from these effects, endorphins improve our mood and can even bring a state of euphoria. If you’ve ever heard of ‘runner’s high,’ this is it.

Second, exercise is an excellent way to melt stress and blow off steam. Many people report feeling half a ton lighter after a workout, and this is precisely thanks to our ability to channel negative emotions into positive actions. Exercise can even make us more resilient to acute stress (6).

Third, physical activity is a good way to clear the mind and improve cognition (7). You get to take your mind off your issues for a bit, and you might come up with a solution to a problem while working out.

And finally, exercise brings a sense of fulfillment, boosts our confidence, and reduces the risk of depression (8). It’s well documented that active folks are much happier and more optimistic than their sedentary counterparts (9).

The best part is that regular exercise is profoundly beneficial for many other aspects of our life and health, which adds even more reasons for doing it. We recommend focusing on resistance training, such as traditional weight lifting, calisthenics, or similar. Adding cardio can also help because less intense activities clear the mind and feel like active meditation.

For example, you can do resistance training three days per week and include a couple of cardio sessions.

 

Monday – weights

Tuesday – cardio

Wednesday – weights

Thursday – cardio

Friday – weights

Saturday & Sunday – off

 

Here are more ideas on how to fight anxiety: Anxiety – Causes, Symptoms And Treatments.

 

sleep and anxiety

Sleep is important to regulate your mood.

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Non-Drug Treatments For Anxiety

Many people go for drugs to treat their anxiety, but several natural remedies can work well. Let’s take a look at them:

Exercise

As discussed in the previous point, exercise is a fantastic way to treat anxiety. It boosts our mood, melts stress, improves our cognition, and clears our minds (5, 7, 8). The best part is, exercise brings numerous other health benefits, so we have no excuse for not exercising.

Smoking

Not a good idea. Many people get into the habit of smoking to ease their nerves and keep anxiety at bay.

The problem is, nicotine brings temporary relief. We might feel calm after a cigarette, but that feeling passes quickly, and we find ourselves anxious again. So, we reach for another cigarette, and a third, and fourth. Before we know it, we’ve developed a nicotine addiction.

Smoking cigarettes is not a solution because the many adverse effects quickly cancel out any benefit we gain. Smoking is deadly.

Alcohol

Alcohol is another double-edged sword. Some people use it to treat their anxiety (often without knowing it), but it doesn’t always work that way.

Alcohol typically calms us down, allowing us to forget our worries, and fall asleep more quickly. But alcohol can also stimulate nervous system activity and exacerbate anxiety in some people (10).

Plus, we also need to keep in mind that alcohol can lead to dependence. This is not a safe way to treat anxiety.

L-Theanine

L-theanine (or simply theanine) is a non-essential amino acid primarily found in coffee and green tea. The nutrient is also available as a dietary supplement.

According to some research, theanine has a calming effect without inducing drowsiness (11). As such, it may help treat anxiety, prevent insomnia, and allow us to remain calmer.

A great way to get some theanine is to drink green tea, which provides other health benefits for us (12):

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Antioxidant properties inside the body

Sleep

Sleep is hardly an exciting subject, but we need to pay attention to it. Not sleeping enough leads to the accumulation of sleep debt, which has adverse effects such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty concentrating (13)
  • Low energy
  • Brain fog (13)
  • Daytime sleepiness

Not getting enough sleep is also linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes (14).

Aside from these adverse effects, sleep deprivation can also exacerbate our anxiety and make us less capable of solving problems in our lives. So, getting at least seven hours of sleep per night is essential for our mental health and well-being.

Relaxation Techniques

Many relaxation techniques are designed to help us deal with anxiety, remain calm, and live peaceful lives.

Meditation is one of the most popular relaxation techniques that teaches us how to be more mindful and remain calm in stressful situations. You can focus on your breath, repeat a mantra, visualize, or simply try to be in the moment and not think about anything. Start with five minutes in the morning or night and try to clear your mind of worries and other thoughts.

Does Nutrition Play a Role With Anxiety?

Nutrition’s role for our overall health and well-being is documented in an ever-growing body of literature. But what about nutrition’s role in preventing anxiety? Can we genuinely eat our way through anxiety?

As it turns out, certain foods appear beneficial in the fight against anxiety. For example, fatty fish, such as salmon, are abundant in nutrients that promote brain health and cognition. EPA and DHA (omega-3 fatty acids) and vitamin D are notable examples (15, 16). It appears that these nutrients play an essential role in our mental health by regulating levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter with a crucial role in our mood, sleep, and more (17).

Dark chocolate also appears to be beneficial for brain health and function, thanks to the flavonols it contains (18). Flavonols are a class of molecules with antioxidant and neuroprotective effects inside the body.

Yogurt is another food that can help us fight anxiety and improve our mental health. Aside from its great taste and health benefits, yogurt is rich in healthy bacteria that are linked to our well-being and state of mind (19, 20). One potential mechanism is the link between our gut microbiota and brain health (21). A healthier and more diverse microbiota might have a significant impact on the brain and our mental health.

Some research also suggests that probiotic-rich foods like yogurt can boost levels of serotonin. The neurotransmitter plays a considerable role in our well-being, happiness, and more (22).

Treating Anxiety With Virtual Reality

There are some exciting new ways for advanced relaxation therapy delivered through Virtual Reality. XR Health at-home virtual reality treatment provides drug free personalized relaxation therapy for stress, anxiety and depression management. Patients receive guided treatment in a safe virtual world with calming relaxation and breathing techniques to focus the mind. Treatments are delivered at home through a virtual reality headset that is delivered right to your door or undertaken in a medical centre or a pharmacy. Patients are having great results by learning advanced relaxation and breathing techniques through the VR-based guided imagery programs with qualified clinicians in the virtual world. Amazing.

virtual reality anxiety treatment

VR based relaxation therapy is transforming the way we treat anxiety.

 

References

  1. Griffin JB JR.. Anxiety. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Boston: Butterworths; 1990. Chapter 202.
  2. Oh, Chang-Myung et al. “The Effect of Anxiety and Depression on Sleep Quality of Individuals With High Risk for Insomnia: A Population-Based Study.” Frontiers in neurology vol. 10 849. 13 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3389/fneur.2019.00849
  3. Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nat Sci Sleep. 2017;9:151-161. Published 2017 May 19. doi:10.2147/NSS.S134864
  4. General Statistics – Beyond Blue
  5. Harber VJ, Sutton JR. Endorphins and exercise. Sports Med. 1984 Mar-Apr;1(2):154-71. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198401020-00004. PMID: 6091217.
  6. Childs E, de Wit H. Regular exercise is associated with emotional resilience to acute stress in healthy adults. Front Physiol. 2014;5:161. Published 2014 May 1. doi:10.3389/fphys.2014.00161
  7. Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, et al. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Well-being: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Front Psychol. 2018;9:509. Published 2018 Apr 27. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509
  8. Anderson E, Shivakumar G. Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Front Psychiatry. 2013;4:27. Published 2013 Apr 23. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027
  9. An HY, Chen W, Wang CW, Yang HF, Huang WT, Fan SY. The Relationships between Physical Activity and Life Satisfaction and Happiness among Young, Middle-Aged, and Older Adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(13):4817. Published 2020 Jul 4. doi:10.3390/ijerph17134817
  10. Hendler RA, Ramchandani VA, Gilman J, Hommer DW. Stimulant and sedative effects of alcohol. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2013;13:489-509. doi: 10.1007/7854_2011_135. PMID: 21560041.
  11. Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8. PMID: 18296328.
  12. Prasanth MI, Sivamaruthi BS, Chaiyasut C, Tencomnao T. A Review of the Role of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) in Antiphotoaging, Stress Resistance, Neuroprotection, and Autophagy. Nutrients. 2019;11(2):474. Published 2019 Feb 23. doi:10.3390/nu11020474
  13. Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007;3(5):553-567.
  14. Cooper CB, Neufeld EV, Dolezal BA, Martin JL. Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018;4(1):e000392. Published 2018 Oct 4. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000392
  15. Dyall SC. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Front Aging Neurosci. 2015 Apr 21;7:52. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052. PMID: 25954194; PMCID: PMC4404917.
  16. Eid A, Khoja S, AlGhamdi S, Alsufiani H, Alzeben F, Alhejaili N, Tayeb HO, Tarazi FI. Vitamin D supplementation ameliorates severity of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Metab Brain Dis. 2019 Dec;34(6):1781-1786. doi: 10.1007/s11011-019-00486-1. Epub 2019 Sep 2. PMID: 31478182.
  17. Grosso G, Galvano F, Marventano S, et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: scientific evidence and biological mechanisms. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:313570. doi:10.1155/2014/313570
  18. Spencer JP. Flavonoids and brain health: multiple effects underpinned by common mechanisms. Genes Nutr. 2009 Dec;4(4):243-50. doi: 10.1007/s12263-009-0136-3. Epub 2009 Aug 15. PMID: 19685255; PMCID: PMC2775888.
  19. Liu RT, Walsh RFL, Sheehan AE. Prebiotics and probiotics for depression and anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trials. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Jul;102:13-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.03.023. Epub 2019 Apr 17. PMID: 31004628; PMCID: PMC6584030.
  20. Ansari F, Pourjafar H, Tabrizi A, Homayouni A. The Effects of Probiotics and Prebiotics on Mental Disorders: A Review on Depression, Anxiety, Alzheimer, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2020;21(7):555-565. doi: 10.2174/1389201021666200107113812. PMID: 31914909.
  21. Clapp M, Aurora N, Herrera L, Bhatia M, Wilen E, Wakefield S. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017;7(4):987. Published 2017 Sep 15. doi:10.4081/cp.2017.987
  22. Kim B, Hong VM, Yang J, et al. A Review of Fermented Foods with Beneficial Effects on Brain and Cognitive Function. Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2016;21(4):297-309. doi:10.3746/pnf.2016.21.4.297

  • Dr Ganesh Naidoo
  • About the Author

    Dr Ganesh Naidoo BSc(biomed), MBBS, FRACGP is an Australian General Practitioner. He has significant clinical experience in multiple regions of Australia and has a passion for health transformation to improve clinical outcomes for all patients.

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